Wide Awake

An insurgent in custody of the Iraqi army
in Mousel. Photo courtesy of Ayub Nuri.

This week on War News Radio, we consider the Awakening movement as a path to better security in Iraq. First, Iraqi civilians talk about how the Awakening Councils have affected their personal security. Elise Garrity reports.

Then, members of the US military talk about the value of this movement as a strategy for a safer and self-protecting Iraq. Kristin Caspar and Alex Imas prepared this report.

Next, we talk to experts about whether Iraq’s security gains will be enough without corresponding political gains. Listen now to Elizabeth Hipple’s report.

Finally, how a recent car bombing in Kabul may have consequences beyond Afghan borders. Asher Sered reports.

These stories, this week on War News Radio.
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VARIOUS: From Swarthmore College this is War News Radio.

ASHER SERED: I’m Asher Sered.

ELISE GARRITY: And I’m Elise Garrity.

ADMIRAL PATRICK DRISCOLL: They were very proud, they now were taking charge of their area against Al Qaeda, and there were I’m sure some in that group, who just a week before had been shooting at the Marines.

ELISE GARRITY: The Awakening movement began in Iraq’s Anbar province in 2004, when US forces and local tribal leaders created a civilian force to fight Al Qaeda. As the movement spread across the country, violence dropped dramatically. When it comes to security in Iraq, could this be the key to success? This week on War News Radio, Wide Awake. Nearly four years into the Awakening movement, we evaluate its effects, and what it may mean for the future of Iraq’s security.

ASHER SERED: First, we hear from residents of Anbar province about how these civilian forces have affected their daily life.

ELISE GARRITY: Also, members of the US military talk about the value of this strategy as a way of maintaining security in Iraq without using foreign troops.

ASHER SERED: Then, we consider if the improvement in Iraq’s security is sustainable without political changes.

ELISE GARRITY: Finally, we switch gears to investigate a recent bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, and take a look at how tension between India and Pakistan played out on Afghan turf.

ASHER SERED: These stories, this week on War News Radio. Some Iraqis think that the presence of armed civilian forces has provided relative security across Iraq, but others think that Awakening members are abusing their newfound power. My co-host Elise Garrity prepared this report.

ELISE GARRITY: During a visit to Babil province, Abu Ali found out that he was a wanted man back in Hawija, near Kirkuk. Ironically, he was wanted by the same group that the US troops had created to protect him.

ABU ALI: I received a message from the Awakening Council they had accused me of working for a Shiite party. I was wanted by the Awakening Council. But in reality I have no links with any political groups. I was surprised to hear such accusations. When I came home I met with a colonel from the Awakening Council and he told me that I had been accused of working for Al Qaeda and for the Badr forces. It did not make any sense because Al Qaeda and Badr are two organizations against each other.

ELISE GARRITY: While he was eventually cleared of the charge, Abu Ali says he is still afraid. Intimidation is a strong suit of the Awakening Council, which isn’t always open to criticism from the people they serve.

ABU ALI: Anyone who raises a report against anyone — to an officer in the Awakening Council, officers who have no education, but have high ranks — that person’s house will be raided and he will be tortured.

ELISE GARRITY: In his hometown of Hawija, Abu Ali says that the Awakening Council has a commanding presence and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.

ABU ALI: Now there is no power stronger than the Awakening Council because they are supported by the Americans. For this reason some members of the Awakening Council work to fulfill their own interests through the power they have.

ELISE GARRITY: Omar Al Mansouri lives in Fallujah, where his experiences with the Awakening have been more positive. His city – one of the largest in Anbar province – has transformed into a place of relative calm, which has given Omar a new sense of mobility.

OMAR AL MANSOURI: For three years I was afraid getting out of the city and go to Baghdad or any other place. I was afraid of militia groups. But now in Fallujah and Ramadi where I go from time to time, I feel very safe. People even stay in coffee shops and internet cafés until midnight. The curfew hours have been removed and this is a good thing.

ELISE GARRITY: Another welcome result of the awakening, Omar says, is that it has created space for political discourse in the area.

OMAR AL MANSOURI: A year and a half ago, no political group could come to Fallujah and organize meetings or conferences. But after the Awakening Council pushed the Al Qaeda out of the area, now political groups have returned to the city and people are preparing for elections. This is evidence that the Awakening Council has achieved security and stability in some of the hottest spots in Iraq.

ELISE GARRITY: Hamid Alhyees is the head of the Anbar Awakening Council. According to his estimates, there are 28,000 members in his province who work to provide security. Alhyees says that Al Qaeda had been operating inside the province for a while before people finally organized to take a stand.

HAMID ALHYEES: In the beginning we did nothing just sat and watched, but when we had had enough of them we started fighting them.

ELISE GARRITY: Now the situation is so stable, that US forces say they are ready to transfer their watch over Anbar to the Iraqi government. In anticipation of the security hand-off, the Iraqi police force has begun to absorb Awakening members. Omar says that the presence of the remaining militia men has dropped noticeably.

OMAR AL MANSOURI: I do not see fighters of the Awakening Council in Fallujah or Ramadi in many places except in public buildings where they provide protection. This is because they have started joining the Iraqi police force. Recently the police chief announced that the there should be no armed people in the streets other than the Iraqi police and that is a good thing that power should only be in the hands of the government forces than militias.

ELISE GARRITY: It may be a while before the Awakening Councils are either absorbed or accepted by the Iraqi government, but both Omar and Abu Ali are willing to wait. Although Abu Ali’s personal security has at times been compromised, he can’t deny that security on a larger scale has improved.

ABU ALI: Awakening Council were the ones who finally achieved security and stability in Iraq despite all the efforts by the American and the Iraqi armies to do so in the past.

ELISE GARRITY: Omar and Abu Ali may disagree on how much they like the Awakening, but if they agree on one thing, it’s this: The movement is working, and its success is unparalleled. For War news Radio, I’m Elise Garrity.

[Music Break]

ELISE GARRITY: The Awakening movement began in early 2007, when citizens of Iraq’s Anbar Province rejected the tactics and ideology of Al Qaeda in their areas. The US military took advantage of this by recruiting these people into armed groups to expel Al Qaeda from their neighborhoods. Kristin Caspar and Alex Imas spoke with members of the US military about how the Awakening Councils have helped the troops achieve their goals.

KRISTIN CASPAR: With violence in Iraq raging in the early years of the occupation, coalition forces were under siege from all sides. Al Qaeda was one of the groups that attacked the American army on a daily basis. Admiral Patrick Driscoll, Chief of Communications for the Multi-National Forces, says that as the presence of these groups grew, their ideology began to clash with the local culture.

PATRICK DRISCOLL: Started with Sunnis out in Anbar province who had worked with Al Qaeda because they were against US forces in Iraq to begin with. What they found is that as time went on, they realized that Wahhabist Takfirist were enforcing upon the Sunnis a lifestyle they didn’t believe in. If you’re a smoker, we’re cutting off fingers, we’re marrying off wives and daughters and were violating the tribal code.

KRISTIN CASPAR: As the US military noticed the split between local leaders and Al Qaeda, they moved forward to help the people push Al Qaeda out of their villages. Admiral Driscoll says he saw the people come together with the US military to take ownership of their community.

PATRICK DRISCOLL: I was out near Fallujah last year, and at this time they just heard, the Awakening had just been formed. I was walking down Main Street with this young Marine captain and he had provided some money to the city to repair the storefronts that had been broken, and walking alongside us were the Sons of Iraq, their Awakening group. They were young men, they had a little safety belt and they had their own weapons. They had everything from old Russian machine guns to squirrel rifles and they were very proud, they now were taking charge of their area against Al Qaeda, and there were I’m sure some in that group, who just a week before had been shooting at the Marines, but when the local Sheikhs said we’re going with the coalition, they got in line and followed.

KRISTIN CASPAR: Once these local people, better known as the Awakening Councils, began working with coalition forces, they did more than just man checkpoints and protect important infrastructure. Their knowledge of the local area is extremely valuable to Coalition efforts, says Lieutenant Colonel Michael Brandt, a sectional Chief of Reconciliation at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

MICHAEL BRANDT: They’re very proficient at identifying and finding IEDs and helping coalition forces find weapons caches, and weapons that could eventually be used against coalition forces. That’s probably the biggest advantage that we’ve had is using people that are from the area that know family members and are able to provide the type of information that we would find very difficult to get otherwise.

KRISTIN CASPAR: In addition to intelligence, the Awakening Councils have provided a large number of fighters to work alongside the US and Iraqi militaries. This participation has taken its toll on their members according to Admiral Driscoll.

PATRICK DRISCOLL: These Sons of Iraq have been taking casualties at a rate of about three times greater than Coalition and Iraqi security forces have been taking. So these are brave people that are out there fighting for the local neighborhoods, and it’s been a very powerful tool.

KRISTIN CASPAR: Despite their close relationship, Lieutenant Colonel Brandt says there are still some in the Awakening Councils who continue to resist Coalition forces.

MICHAEL BRANDT: We recognize that there’s always going to be a small percentage of irreconcilables — these are the individuals who will always look backwards, that will lash out against the coalition or the Iraqi government and try and impede the progress and we’ll do what we can to identify them and weed them out.

KRISTIN CASPAR: The Awakening Councils began in Sunni areas, but have since spread to some Shia communities. Lieutenant Colonel Brandt, says the Awakening Councils have promoted dialogue between different religious sects.

MICHAEL BRANDT: The farther east it spreads south of Baghdad, the more Shi’a populations you’ll have, which means you’ll have a high number of SOIs that are Shi’a working with SOIs and SOI leaders that are Sunni. So, inevitably the two will end up talking to each other and that could be at the SOI level or SOI leaders, and tribal sheiks coming to the table to work with the coalition. We meet with them on a regular basis and just getting them to talk together is a huge step towards national reconciliation.

KRISTIN CASPAR: But while these local groups help provide security in Iraq, Admiral Driscoll says it is a temporary solution. He says they’re already looking for a way to transition members of these groups for when the security situation improves. ACcording to Lieutenant Colonel Brandt, job training is one way to achieve this goal.

MICHAEL BRANDT: We’re working to provide them alternative means of employment, could be working for the government of Iraq at the provincial level or even the ministral level, doing a lot of what they’re doing now, protecting infrastructure. We’ve also set up training programs at selected sites in and around Baghdad.

KRISTIN CASPAR: Admiral Driscoll says that some of the Awakening Council fighters have already joined the Iraqi army.

PATRICK DRISCOLL: About 17 thousand have already transitioned to security forces, 20 thousand want to, some of those 20 thousand can’t pass a literacy test to become a policeman, so we’ve set up schools to train them to a level that is sufficient to get them to join the army or police.

KRISTIN CASPAR: The military initially had concerns about insurgents serving in areas populated by a rival sect. But Admiral Driscoll believes incorporating former Awakening Council members into the Iraqi Army is already working to create a united force.

PATRICK DRISCOLL: What we’ve seen recently is that with the sweeping operations that have been conducted here in Basra, in Sadr City, and in Amarah, the Army has moved many units from certain areas to other areas, so you’ve got Sunni groups moving out of Anbar to go down to Basrah, and that shows that this is a national army, not a sectarian army only to be used in certain places.

KRISTIN CASPAR: But until the Iraqi Army is able to provide security on its own, a close relationship between the Awakening Councils with the US military is essential. For War News Radio, I’m Kristin Caspar.

[Music Break]

ASHER SERED: This is War News Radio. The emergence of Awakening Councils has changed the Sunnis’ military role, but not their political position within Iraq’s government. Elizabeth Hipple spoke with three experts, including Lee Hamilton, the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, about what security without political improvements could mean for the future stability of Iraq.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: While Iraq’s Awakening Councils have managed to provide security, the fact that their members receive paychecks from the United States for doing so raises concerns that relative calm will last only as long as the money does. Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks such worries are unfounded because the former insurgents have stopped fighting the United States for reasons other than money.

STEPHEN BIDDLE: If mass warfare returns to Iraq, Sunnis will lose and they know it – that’s why they stood down in such enormous numbers with such blinding speed. This is not a situation where a bunch of Sunnis with their fingers on the trigger, waiting for the first opportunity so they can reignite the war.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: While Sunnis may have left the insurgency, that does not mean that they are satisfied with the political status quo. Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who served as co-chairman of the Iraq Study group, worries that security gains are not enough without corresponding political gains.

LEE HAMILTON: The Sunnis are increasingly frustrated with the United States and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their role, of their importance. Sunni Awakening Councils have a deep distrust, as your question suggests, of the Shias who basically run the government. The promise of the Maliki government to integrate the Sunnis has not yet been fulfilled.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: Toby Jones, assistant professor of history at Rutgers Univeristy, echoes Hamilton’s concerns that the formation of Awakening Councils and their cooperation with the United States does not mean that recent decreases of violence are signs of permanent improvement. Strides forward in reducing violence will last only when Sunnis and Shias have reached an agreement over how to divide and share political power.

TOBY JONES: I suppose the biggest problem is, are Sunnis and Shias in Iraq at this point going to tolerate the authority of the other or the presence of the other? Are the Sunnis going to tolerate the Shias having the preponderance of political power in Iraq, are the Shias going to tolerate the existence of Sunnis who might have formerly supported both the anti-American and the anti-Shia insurgency inside the government? It’s a matter of political will.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: Stephen Biddle agrees that the mere existence of Awakening Councils is not a sign of Iraq’s stability. There are over two hundred contracted Councils in Iraq and the decentralized nature of these groups leaves plenty of room for a return to violence.

STEPHEN BIDDLE: Somebody’s going to miscalculate, somebody’s going to make a mistake, somebody’s going to engage in mistaken identity and retaliate against somebody they shouldn’t retaliate against. The danger is that when that happens, as it already has and inevitably will, it can create an escalatory spiral as their rivals take revenge on them, they take revenge on the vengeance takers, and off you go, and the next thing you know, neighboring groups get sucked in and then you’re right back to 2006 again.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: To prevent such a spiral of violence from reigniting, Stephen Biddle thinks that the continued presence of about 100,000 American soldiers is needed to act as peacekeeping forces through 2009, when Iraq’s next national election is scheduled to take place. However, Prof. Jones believes that far from helping prevent a return to violence, American military presence in Iraq might actually be making the situation worse.

TOBY JONES: If the US is actually, if its presence there is actually a problem in preventing either the Shias making important concessions or realizing that they have to make important concessions or for the Sunnis to act as reasonable actors in the absence of patronage, then we’re not really making any progress. The American presence there it is far from certain, it seems to me, that the American presence is actually helping satisfy requirements for a long term peace in Iraq or whether or not it’s simply putting off the inevitable.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: Congressman Hamilton is neither as optimistic nor as pessimistic as others about the future stability of Iraq. A permanent reduction in violence will not be achieved only by military initiatives, but by ones of a political nature.

LEE HAMILTON: I just think that we’re going to have to probably lower our expectations as to what can be achieved in Iraq and think more in terms of trying to promote a complex political process not so much pursuing military victory, not leading, I hope, to a indefinite occupation of Iraq, but focusing more on stability and modest achievements of what we can achieve in a very, very difficult environment.

ELIZABETH HIPPLE: The organization of former Sunni insurgents into Awakening Councils has improved security in Iraq in the short term but that might change if they decide to pursue political power. For War News Radio, I’m Elizabeth Hipple.

[Music Break]

ELISE GARRITY: Last week’s blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul was the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since the start of the US invasion in 2001. Some people believe that the bombing was part of wider tensions among Afghanistan’s neighbors. My co-host, Asher Sered has this report.

ASHER SERED: While there have been no formal allegations that Pakistan was involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul on Monday, there has been much speculation that Pakistani intelligence the ISI, was in some form or another complicit in the attack. Indeed, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the Pakistani intelligence service of being complicit in an attempt on his life in April. Whether or not the ISI was involved in the bombing on Monday it is clear that Afghanistan’s stability relies partly on the situation on the ground in Pakistan. Ashraf Haidari counselor for political, security and development affairs at the Afghan embassy in Washington says that Pakistan should help the security situation in Afghanistan.

ASHRAF HAIDARI: Pakistan needs to focus on a two-prong strategy one is to focus on arresting and bringing to justice as quick as possible all of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership and of course then focus on dismantling their operational infrastructure that includes training camps and financing sources and ways that they get supplies and I think that these two can happen without necessarily destabilizing parts of Pakistan.

ASHER SERED: That said, the fact that the bombing earlier this week took place at the Indian embassy could be a cause for alarm considering the history that India and Pakistan share. Basharat Peer assistant editor of Foreign Affairs magazine and Author of a memoir of the Kashmir conflict Curfewed Night, explains that there is long historical precedent of India and Pakistan using Afghanistan as a go-between for their quests to gain supremacy in the region.

BASHARAT PEER: Basically India and Pakistan have been for a while supporting different factions in Afghanistan and the question of Afghanistan is really seen by both countries in terms of their national interest. It is sort of a great game between the two countries about who will have more influence in Afghanistan and how can they use that influence for their trade or security benefits.

ASHER SERED: Following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 India found an opportunity to use the rebuilding of Afghanistan to its advantage. Basharat Peer explains that India sought to help its standing in the region by providing economic support to the newly liberated Afghanistan.

BASHARAT PEER: The whole competition for influence about whether the Pakistani government will have more influence on Afghanistan or the Indian government will have that has been a source of friction and after 2002 India set up a series of consulates and embassies within Afghanistan and got involved in a big way in building roads some of which connect Afghanistan to Central Asian republics which are a source of gas.

ASHER SERED: Meanwhile, Pakistan had problems of its own. Following the downfall of the Taliban, many high ranking members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban crossed the border into Pakistan and started running operations from across the border. Haidiri, from the Afghan embassy, describes these attacks.

ASHRAF HAIDARI: The Taliban were able to regroup and launch attacks when they were not pursued or defeated since being given the opportunity to regroup and reconstitute and their operational infrastructure on the other side of the border in Pakistan and over time they started launching cross-border terrorist attacks on Afghanistan and of course the number of attacks as we know is again rising as of 2005, 2006, 2007 and really now just sky rocketing.

ASHER SERED: The majority of these attacks have been carried out against Afghanistan, however, Basharat Peer explains, they have caused Pakistan its share of difficulties.

BASHARAT PEER: I don’t think the country can if there is war on its border, but there might be elements, non-state actors like millitant groups within Pakistan who would want to continue the fight I don’t think Pakistan as a country gains if there is war in Afghanistan. I think Pakistan as a country has suffered the most because of Afghanistan you know the whole question of refugees and what the sort of involvement in the whole Afghanistan war and how it millitarized the Pakistan society and the influence of drugs and so I don’t think Pakistan has to gain if there is a war or trouble in Afghanistan.

ASHER SERED: Peer explains that Afghanistan should not look only to Pakistan to help with security.

BASHARAT PEER: You can’t blame all of Afghanistan’s problems on Pakistan and I think the Karzai government does need to look within and see what they are not doing right whatever images you see of Afghanistan, there have been many questions of corruption and misuse of funds and whether the aid is working and why they have not been able to get where they wanted to get and so it is a question of nation-building there too and obviously Afghanistan did not get the attention it should have after the Karzai government was put in place because the United States got more involved in Iraq but it is not that if Pakistan presses a magic button Afghanistan’s problems will be solved.

ASHER SERED: As for who was behind the attack on Monday, the investigation is ongoing, according to Haidiri from the Afghan embassy. The one thing that is clear is that whoever is behind it does not want to see the countries resolve their problems peacefully.

ASHRAF HAIDARI: We don’t know of course, there is an investigation going on to determine who was behind the attack but we know that whoever it was of course that whoever was behind the attack was of course enemies of friendship between India and Afghanistan. And so that is something that is being investigated to determine exactly who is behind this attack, one that killed so many civilians as well as Indian diplomats.

ASHER SERED: Given the hostilities between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan seems to have become a battleground for its neighbors to settle their scores. For War News Radio, I’m Asher Sered.

ELISE GARRITY: That’s our show for this week.

ASHER SERED: War News Radio is a production of Swarthmore College.

ELISE GARRITY: Visit us online to listen to archived shows, learn more about the program, or subscribe to our podcast. That’s at warnewsradio.org.

ASHER SERED: On our site, you can also comment on this show or on our past programs.

ELISE GARRITY: Our behind the scenes crew for this week includes Marge Murphy and Ayub Nuri. I’m Elise Garrity.

ASHER SERED: And I’m Asher Sered. Until next time, thanks for listening.

This week’s show features music by Ahmed Al Asheq.

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