Sons of Iraq Face Iraqi Government Pressure

This piece first aired in April, 2009, as part of the show, “A Woman’s Place.”

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    HOST: This is War News Radio. The Awakening Movement and its Sons of Iraq forces have been widely praised for turning against the Sunni insurgency and helping to stem sectarian violence in Iraq over the last few years. However, cracks in the system have started to show after the handover of the largely Sunni groups to the Shi’a-led Iraqi government. Now, Sons of Iraq complain of poor treatment from the government — many haven’t been paid in months, they aren’t finding jobs with the government or security forces, and some are facing arrest on charges they claim are groundless. Elizabeth Threlkeld reports on one Sons of Iraq leader’s take on the fighting that broke out this week between Sons of Iraq and Iraqi soldiers and on the discrimination he says he has faced from Iraqi authorities.

    ELIZABETH THRELKELD: When clashes erupted between Sons of Iraq and Iraqi army soldiers in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood, the Iraqi government and many in the media described the fighting as an uprising by the Awakening group. Raad Ali Hassan, the leader of the Sons of Iraq in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood in western Baghdad, says this description misses the point.

    RAAD ALI HASSAN: What happened in Fadhil is not a rebellion.

    ELIZABETH THRELKELD: Instead, he explains, the fighting was in response to a series of broken promises that has left the Sons of Iraq fed up with the government.

    RAAD ALI HASSAN: The Sons of Iraq have not been paid for the last two months, and most of them have families. People were patient up to their noses, so they were shocked when their leader was arrested. This led to the incidents in Fadhil.

    ELIZABETH THRELKELD: Hassan understands the anger after such arrests — firsthand. He heard about the fighting in Fadhil while in a Baghdad detention center, where he had been taken after being arrested a few days earlier.

    RAAD ALI HASSAN: About a month ago, I learned that there was an arrest warrant against me. So, I tried to go to the department that issued the arrest warrant, and they refused to see me. Last Tuesday, at midnight, a Colonel accompanied by five officers, seven or eight Humvees, and about thirty troops showed up. They knocked on the door, but in a polite way. They asked me to accompany them. They told me that they don’t have an arrest warrant, they only wanted me for questioning. They took me to a security agency, and I was interrogated for eight days. When the case got to the judge, he released me. I thank God I was released today.

    ELIZABETH THRELKELD: Hassan is now back home, and he hopes that the Sons of Iraq leader from Fadhil will also soon be released from police custody. But he worries this won’t be the end of the problems the Awakening groups face. For him, the arrests are part of a larger, more troubling issue.

    RAAD ALI HASSAN: The leaders of the Sons of Iraq are all being targeted. The charges are baseless, and there are several Sons of Iraq leaders now in prison. I don’t know what this is. Is it a conspiracy, is it settling scores? I don’t know what it is.

    ELIZABETH THRELKELD: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed such accusations in a statement, saying that the crackdown on the Sons of Iraq leader in Fadhil was not politically motivated. Instead, he explained it came after an extensive, six month-long investigation which revealed the leader’s involvement in underground Ba’ath party activities. Still, Hassan doesn’t buy these claims. He believes the Shi’a-led Iraqi government is simply unwilling to support the majority-Sunni Sons of Iraq.

    RAAD ALI HASSAN: The biggest tragedy in Iraq is that our government is short sighted. The government and the U.S. forces feel that things have become stable in Iraq, and everything is under control. And so they are not obliged to keep their promises to the Sons of Iraq. But the security situation is still fragile; things are not stable. The security challenges still exist, and are enormous.

    ELIZABETH THRELKELD: For now, the situation in Fadhil seems to have calmed. The day after fighting broke out, Iraqi army forces went through the neighborhood disarming the Sons of Iraq. On Monday, both U.S. and Iraqi officials announced that the group would not be allowed to re-form. But late in the week, reports in the Iraqi media indicated that a member of the Fadhil Sons of Iraq had taken control of the group with the support of some in parliament, and that he was in the process of reorganizing the neighborhood’s forces. Also, a government spokesman announced that, in spite of the fighting, the Fadhil Sons of Iraq would be among a number of Baghdad Awakening groups who will receive paychecks next week, after delays blamed on bureaucratic red tape. Longer term issues — like finding jobs for Iraq’s nearly 100,000 Sons of Iraq — still remain. But until those problems are solved, most Sons of Iraq will be content with a steady paycheck. For War News Radio, I’m Elizabeth Threlkeld.

    HOST: If you’d like more information on the Sons of Iraq and their transition to Iraqi government control, go to our website, www.warnewsradio.org, where we’ve posted a link to Elizabeth Threlkeld’s piece on these issues from December.

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