AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images/AFP
A banner reading "Danger, explosion!" is attached to a burned car in Baghdad.
The success of the "surge" in Iraq was based on a number of things beyond the introduction of more American troops and their counter insurgency strategy. Among them, cease fire by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, and the Sunni Awakening.
The Awakening was made up of Sunnis who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq in their areas. The Americans paid them to take up arms against AQI and in some areas they were quite effective at driving out AQ fighters. They made a dramatic difference in Anbar province, which had been the insurgency's heartland.
But the whole "surge" was designed to give Iraqis time to create a political solution. Time that seems to have been frittered away to no end. And according to the New York Times, Al-Qaida is now recruiting Awakening members, with some success.
Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.
The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided Al Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters.
The Awakening members’ switch in loyalties poses a new threat to Iraq’s tenuous social and political balance during the country’s ongoing political crisis and as the United States military prepares to withdraw next year.