Yesterday, the issue of the largely disaffected and mostly Sunni Awakening councils clashing with Shi’a-dominated government security forces in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood was well covered, as were potential ramifications. What has come out in the past day are details about how it played out, and about the charges made against Adil al-Mashhadani, the Awakening (or Sahwa) leader whose arrest sparked the whole thing. A US military statement released on Sunday stated that al-Mashhadani was charged with extorting in excess of $160,000 from Fadhil residents, that he took part in insurgent attacks and had ties to al-Qaeda. Iraqi officials said he commanded an illegal armed wing of the Baath party.
On the front page of the Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan and Anthony Shadid frame their story around the idea of two key American allies fighting.
...The fallout from the operation is already rippling far beyond the city's boundaries. Both the Iraqi security forces and the Sunni fighters, known as the Awakening, are cornerstones in the American strategy to bring stability. The Awakening, in particular, is widely viewed as a key reason violence has dramatically dropped across Iraq.Raghavan and Shadid show some of the fear the arrests are causing among many Sahwa by pointing out that in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Dora, Adhamiyah and Amiriyah, their offices were closed and nearly a dozen of their leaders had switched off their cellphones or declined to answer calls. "We are being chased right now by the government," said one of their spokesmen, in Amiriyah. "We're moving from place to place."
Many leaders of the Awakening, mostly former Sunni insurgents who joined hands with U.S. forces to fight the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, have long had a contentious relationship with Iraq's Shiite-led government. But the weekend battles have sparked fresh frustration and mistrust of both the U.S. military and Iraq's mostly Shiite security forces, according to interviews with Awakening leaders across the country.
Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times gives a better feel for what things were like on the ground, of some residents’ opinions of al-Mashhadani, and and gets to the bottom of the claim that, during the fighting, Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped by the Sahwa.
Iraqi and American forces surrounded the neighborhood through the day on Sunday as American Apache helicopters buzzed overhead and Iraqi Army Humvees moved through the streets using loudspeakers to tell members of the Awakening group to hand over their guns. By evening, the Iraqi Army was searching homes for more weapons, but pedestrians were able to enter and children were playing soccer.The Wall Street Journal’s Gina Chon reports on something that nobody else is – that some 200 prominent, moderate followers of Moqtada al-Sadr have broken from his movement, forming a splinter group, just as the government has reportedly begun granting secret amnesty deals to members of the breakaway group who also were members of Iranian-backed militias. Says Chon, this will further weaken al-Sadr’s “hold on what was once one of Iraq's most influential factions.”
Five Iraqi Army soldiers, who were described on Saturday as having been kidnapped shortly after the shooting began, were able to leave the neighborhood on Sunday morning, Mr. Sammaraie said. His assertion was corroborated by an Iraqi Army officer. “Those five soldiers were at a joint checkpoint with the Awakening and when the clashes started, they turned to us for help and told us, ‘We are neutral, and we don’t want to interfere and shoot at you, so we would like to stay here until morning,’ ” Mr. Sammaraie said.
Mr. Sadr sought last spring to transform his Mahdi Army into a social-services organization that would no longer use arms after a government crackdown on the militia. But while violence by Shiite extremists has declined, some of his movement's members disobey his orders, and others have formed splinter groups to continue the fight.Rod Nordland of the New York Times writes about the fad in Baghdad of owning a Hummer as a symbol of power and money. Alan Gomez of USA Today write a similar story not long ago, speaking to the car dealer who sells them and fairly subtly pointing out the irony of the civilian version of the Humvee in Iraq’s capital. Nordland goes further in depth, relating how the owners of the dealership rode around in Baghdad traffic to showcase their wares, and how the number of customers is growing, mostly made up of government officials – who are most likely to be about to pay for one.
The three granted amnesty said that with Mr. Sadr residing in Iran for religious studies, some of his more moderate followers were concerned that his movement is still being infiltrated by Shiite extremists who want to keep fighting U.S. and Iraqi security forces. They felt the only way to distance themselves from the extremists was to form a new group.
Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.
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