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IRAQ TO DISARM SUNNI AWAKENING COUNCILS

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Authorities in Iraq have refused, according to reports on Sunday 06/06/2010, to renew weapons permits for thousands of Sunni fighters belonging to Awakening Councils.

A spokesman for the Iraqi military in Diyala province said members of the Awakening Councils, also referred to as the Sahwa, were considered civilians, and “so it is not reasonable to authorise around 10,000 personnel to carry weapons in this province”.

But Zuhair al-Chalabi, an Iraqi official in charge of integrating the fighters into the government, said the permits had expired, rather than being withdrawn.

“The Diyala command gave the militiamen special authorization [to carry arms],” he said. “Those authorizations expired and were withdrawn by the command.”

Leaders of the councils, which started in 2006, played a crucial role in fighting successfully Al Qaeda in Iraq and were credited with helping to significantly cut violence since the worst of the sectarian bloodshed in 2006-07, when tens of thousands of people were killed, responded angrily to the ban. They threatened to stop co-operating with security forces in Diyala, a mostly Sunni province and one of the most volatile in Iraq (see – Diyala 05.21.10).

Khalid al-Luhaibi, head of the Sahwa movement in Diyala, said the order withdrawing weapons permits must be cancelled. He threatened to withdraw his men from checkpoints around the province.

“These weapons are necessary to protect ourselves and to protect the regions under our control,” he said. “We will be forced to withdraw to avoid being an easy target for Al Qaeda if this decision is upheld”. But Luhaibi later denied those reports: He told Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh in Baghdad that he “didn’t threaten to stop cooperating,” and said his men have a “good relation[ship]” with the Iraqi government.

Iraqi leaders promised to give government jobs to some 90,000 Sahwa members, but only about 42,000 of the fighters have been offered jobs, according to government officials.

Thousands of other Sahwa fighters were asked to stay with their neighborhood security patrols through Iraq’s 03/07/2010 parliamentary election and until a new government is formed (see also -Verge of Chaos) .

The vote produced no clear winner. A cross-sectarian coalition led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi won a narrow victory with strong support from minority Sunnis, but no bloc won enough seats to form a majority government.

Since the election, Iraq’s two major Shiaa coalitions have announced plans to form the largest bloc in parliament. Allawi in turn has warned that a Shia alliance that attempted to exclude his bloc from government could trigger renewed violence.

Diyala, a mixed province with a Sunni majority just east of Baghdad, has seen more violence in recent months than other areas of Iraq. Sahwa members have also been the targets of a recent campaign of assassinations and bombings in which more than 100 people have died.

* The next day, Monday 06/07/2010 morning, a series of car bombs exploded in Baghdad killing 6 people and wounding dozens (see also -Baghdad 04.23.10).
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