Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Iraqi views on Awakening handover

Two Iraqis discuss the recent handover of control of the Sunni Arab Awakening Councils from the US military to Iraq's Shia-led government.

The Awakening, or "Sahwa" is made up of around 100,000 Sunni tribesmen and former insurgents who switched sides to fight al-Qaeda with the backing of the US military.


The Sahwa at my local checkpoint say the Iraqi government is paying them less than the Americans used to.

Map of Iraq

The Americans used to pay each man $250 per month, but now it's only $200.

And the payments have been more than 10 days late each time.

The government must take this seriously. The Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq as they're now called, may change their ideas and rejoin the militant groups, if they think they'll get more money that way.

Baiji is a small tribal place, we're all Arabs and Sunni Muslims here. There is a general impression that the government is sectarian.

This area used to be full of terrorists. There were clashes every day between Iraqis, al-Qaeda and coalition forces.

Our town was full of blood and we became very familiar with assassination. On the first day of Ramadan in 2006 the heads of 12 people were found in the bazaar in Baiji.

When al-Qaeda killed too many Iraqis we turned against them; revenge is the Arab creed.

So now it's peaceful; we haven't seen the head of a human being thrown like a stone for months.


The Awakening Council are still coming to my house once a month to take protection money. It started in January this year, it's blackmail.

Awakening Council members in Baghdad
Armed members of the Awakening Council frisk a civilian in Baghdad

They said the money they got from the US wasn't enough. I guess they still think they're not getting enough.

At first we refused to pay, but they threatened us - so now we pay $25 per person.

We knew all of them before they became part of the Sahwa, they are all Iraqis from Baghdad.

Some were criminals, some had co-operated with al-Qaeda. Some were just people with no job or prospects who joined the council to earn money.

Since they started, security has got better. A year ago we stayed at home after 6pm; now, we can go out for a walk, just for 15 minutes or so.

But it's a very weak security. If anything happens between them and the military, guns will fire again and the problems will be bigger.

There is zero trust between the Awakening Councils and the government, so I think this transfer of payments from the US military to the Iraqi government is a bad idea.

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