Iraqi Pact Against al-Qaida May Soon Crumble Iraq's hard-won security gains are under threat, according to Sunni tribal leaders who led the so-called "awakening movement" against insurgents. Sheiks from the volatile Anbar province say they see no reason to keep fighting al-Qaida in Iraq if their people are going to be denied political rewards and economic development.
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Iraqi Pact Against al-Qaida May Soon Crumble

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Iraqi Pact Against al-Qaida May Soon Crumble

Iraqi Pact Against al-Qaida May Soon Crumble

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We go first this hour to Iraq. U.S. forces there have been touting recent gains made against al-Qaida in Iraq and other militant groups. Now, some Sunni tribal leaders say that effort is in jeopardy. Over a year ago, these Sunnis formed that the so-called awakening movement and joined with U.S. forces to push al-Qaida in Iraq out of their territory. But now there are signs of dissatisfaction.

In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, local Sunni security men walked off the job over a dispute with provincial police. In Anbar province, west of Baghdad, one sheikh says he sees no reason to keep fighting al-Qaida in Iraq if his people are being denied political rewards and economic development.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has the story.

PETER KENYON: Sheikh Ali al-Hatam(ph) is the leader of the large and powerful Dulaimi clan in Anbar province. It's a sign of the complicated reality in today's Iraq that the sheikh is a hero for helping to drive Sunni insurgents out of western Iraq and also a wanted man. He says the warrant for his arrest issued by a court in the provincial capital Ramadi is the least of his worries.

Behind a pile of charred and twisted automobiles in central Baghdad, what's left of Sheikh Hatam's office, speaks to his near brush with death earlier this month. A car bomb killed a guard and wounded the sheikh and five others. A young man with an intense gaze, Hatam says he knows al-Qaida in Iraq wants revenge for being driven out of Anbar province by his awakening forces. In a new twist, he says, Iranian-backed militias are also after him. But he thinks this attack was backed by his political rivals, the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Sheikh ALI AL-HATAM (Dulaimi Clan Leader): (Through translator) Before the bombing, I made some statements condemning certain politicians and the Iraqi Islamic Party in Anbar. Frankly, we received some threats. We were warned by the Americans that we might be targeted.

KENYON: The leaders of the awakening movement in Anbar had declared victory over Sunni insurgents. Many of them, their own blood relations, and they're now looking to move into the political arena. But they're bumping into other parties that got there first. The Iraqi Islamic Party, for instance, agreed to contest elections to form the U.S.-backed government back when most Sunnis would have nothing to do with it. Sheikh Hatam now says they were tricked back then into rejecting the political path, but having shed their blood to win back Anbar province, they won't sit by while other parties reap the rewards.

Sheikh AL-HATAM: (Through translator) The politicians told people not to take part, to boycott the elections and not to join the police or the army. But now we have awakened. We are awakened from the anesthesia that they gave us. We will not fall again into their traps.

KENYON: The politician Hatam is talking about, Anbar Provincial Council head, Abdul Salam al-Ani does not take kindly to being called a thief and a liar. After Hatam demanded the dissolution of the council on the grounds that it was allegedly looting reconstruction money, the council filed a lawsuit and arrest warrants were issued for Hatam and another awakening sheikh.

Reached by telephone from Amman, Jordan, Ani says the councils sought the arrest warrants out of concern the sheikhs would resort to violence.

Sheikh ABDUL SALAM AL-ANI (Provincial Council Head, Anbar Province): (Through translator) The reason behind this complaint was a real and dangerous threat -threatening the security of the province, people who sacrificed the things they hold dearest, including their sons. We won't allow any party to destabilize the province, but we will only use legal means.

KENYON: This power struggle is unfolding at a delicate time for the Iraqi leadership and their American backers. As the violence abated, the awakening forces who were paid roughly $10 a day by the Americans began asking, where were the results they were promised: jobs for the thousands of idle young men and reconstruction projects and services for their towns and villages.

Many frustrated Anbar residents, such as 40-year-old Fallujah native, Omar Ibrahim(ph), agree with Sheikh Hatam that the politicians in Ramadi are responsible for the delay in construction.

Mr. OMAR IBRAHIM (Resident, Fallujah): (Through translator) The truth is, this money is going to unknown pockets. We heard about millions, but we only saw thousands. Ha, no schools were built - they just repainted the old one. Where are the teachers? Where are the hospitals?

KENYON: The sense of disillusionment among the awakening forces, one of the linchpins of the improved security situation here is a reminder that none of the recent gains in Iraq is irreversible. Sheikh Hatam says if the Islamic Party and the provincial council want to take credit for bringing peace to Anbar, maybe they should try fighting the insurgents themselves. And the same thing could happen in Diyala, in Salahaddin, and other provinces.

Sheikh AL-HATAM: (Trough translator) Perhaps from now on we will not be on the offensive as before but just defend our families. Then we will see if the other parties are really capable of defending Iraq against this chaos. If they can't, they should meet our demands.

KENYON: The awakening sheikhs are demanding early elections this spring for Anbar province, a new electoral commission and rapid improvement of services. So far, the government has shown little inclination to comply.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.

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