Iraqi Sunnis Wary After Paramilitary Leader's Arrest Tensions are high after deadly weekend clashes between U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitaries and Iraqi and U.S. forces in Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood. The fighting followed the arrest of a paramilitary leader. The area is now on lockdown, and Sunnis fear sectarian motives are behind the crackdown.
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Iraqi Sunnis Wary After Paramilitary Leader's Arrest

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Iraqi Sunnis Wary After Paramilitary Leader's Arrest

Iraqi Sunnis Wary After Paramilitary Leader's Arrest

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

There are continuing tensions in Baghdad today after fierce weekend clashes. At least four people were killed when U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitaries fought with Iraqi and American forces in one Baghdad neighborhood.

As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, the battle erupted when U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested a local paramilitary leader.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil is on lockdown. Dozens of tanks and Humvees, and hundreds of Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces, now control the area. They are conducting house-to-house searches looking for weapons and wanted men.

Until this weekend, the U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitaries, known as the Sons of Iraq, kept security here. But when Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested their leader, Adil al-Mashhadani, his men fought back. The clashes left over a dozen people dead and injured.

Iraq's government says Mashhadani headed a secret cell loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. The U.S. military says he was involved in extortion and racketeering.

But on the streets of Fadhil, several residents said they feel that there are sectarian motives for the crackdown.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Approaching an NPR reporter, an older Fadhil resident angrily denounced the raid, shouting repeatedly, this is a war against the Sunni areas. Iraqi army officers quickly arrested him, abruptly accusing him of planting roadside bombs.

(Soundbite of a crying woman)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nearby, another woman cries out that the army arrested her son for no reason. Dozens of other residents line the street, silently watching the security operation.

Sunnis across Iraq have been closely following events in Fadhil. Despite assurances by the Iraqi government that the Fadhil raid does not signal a wider crackdown against the Sons of Iraq forces, there is a rising concern among Sunni leaders about the Shiite-led government's intentions.

Mohamed Abdul al-Kohla is the Sons of Iraq leader in the Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah.

Mr. MOHAMED ABDUL AL-KOHLA (Amiriyah Leader, Sons of Iraq): (Through Translator) This is something very dangerous. We especially don't like that they disarmed our brothers in Fadhil. How are they supposed to protect themselves now? This will open the way for the terrorists to attack them again. I think it's wrong.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Sons of Iraq, as the Sunni paramilitary forces are known, are made up of former insurgents who allied themselves with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans, who trained and paid them, recently handed over control of the Sunni neighborhood fighters to the Iraqi government. But the transition has not been a smooth one, and there is deep mistrust on both sides.

Iraq's government promised to keep paying the men until they can find them jobs in Iraq's security forces or ministries. So far, only five percent of the Sunni paramilitary forces have been incorporated into the police and army. And many of the paramilitaries say they have not been paid in months.

Sons of Iraq leader Mustafa Kamil, in the neighborhood of Dora, says the government has not kept its word.

Mr. MUSTAFA KAMEL (Dora Leader, Sons of Iraq): (Through Translator) Honestly, we're worried about the future. If the government doesn't pay us and incorporate us into the security services, I swear, bad things will start happening here a month from now. We won't attack them, but the situation will deteriorate again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The fear is that these former fighters could return to the insurgency and plunge the country into a renewed cycle of violence. That could imperil the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

American Major General Mike Milano is in charge of training the Iraqi police. He says the Sons of Iraq need to have their expectations met.

Major General MIKE MILANO (U.S. Army): Well, they're a critical component in the current security situation, and so I think it's vital that the government fulfills its obligation to them, absolutely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dora leader, Mustafa Kamil, says the U.S. military, though, needs to give them more than words.

Mr. KAMIL: (Through Translator) If anything happens to our members, it will be the responsibility of the U.S. government. The Americans completely abandoned us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Americans, he adds bitterly, have broken all of their promises to us, as well.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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