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‘The Awakening Are Not Stronger Than The Government’

While you were sleeping, the Iraqi security forces and the ex-insurgent militiamen known as the Awakening Councils or the Sons of Iraq skirmished in the Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil. The Iraqi government appears to have won the battles decisively. In Iraq, though,”decisively” means “for now, while the aggrieved party studies what went wrong, adjusts and re-ups.”

Over the weekend, Iraqi security forces arrested an Awakening leader named Adil Mashadani, whom Leila Fadel of McClatchy describes as “an outspoken critic of the government who ruled his district as a personal fiefdom.” The government forces say they came after him for the latter part of that description. Here’s the U.S. military’s statement on the arrest. Predictably, the Awakening interpreted Mashadani’s arrest as resulting from the former. (The military’s flat declaration: “He was not detained because of his involvement with the Sons of Iraq (SOI).”) The Washington Post reports what happened next:

In response to the arrest, Awakening fighters took to the streets and rooftops, engaging in fierce gun battles with U.S. and Iraqi troops. At least eight Iraqi soldiers were injured; an additional five were taken hostage but were released Sunday morning, Iraqi security officials said.

The Post quotes an Iraqi Army sergeant saying, “This shows that we don’t need the Americans and that Awakening are not stronger than the government.” Both points appear to be correct. But the Awakening has now had its first pitched battle with Iraqi forces in the capitol. They have a legitimate grievance (the Maliki government has been slow to live up to its U.S.-pushed promises of integration into the security forces and civilian employment) and an illegitimate one (the Maliki government doesn’t like them acting like neighborhood warlords). The incident is unlikely to convince Prime Minister Nouri Maliki al-Maliki to speed up incorporation of the Awakening into the government forces, as they appear to be a lawless element — and the Awakening has reason to believe that Maliki is using Awakening registration as an intelligence asset. The Post:

Iraqi soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in Fadhil with the help of informants, targeting Awakening fighters. At one entrance to the neighborhood, once an al-Qaeda in Iraq stronghold, men were dragged from their homes, blindfolded and placed into Humvees. An Iraqi intelligence official calmly crossed off names on a wanted list.

Both factions in the dispute can claim U.S. backing. Which is actually good — it’s better for the United States to act as an intercessor in this case than it is to act as the guarantor of one of the factions. It sure is a good thing, then, that Sen. Sam Brownback is vowing to block U.S. Ambassador-designate Chris Hill’s nomination. (Actually, in this case, assume that Brownback’s charges against Hill are correct and Hill is a craven appeaser of the North Koreans. You want an appeaser in Baghdad in this case! It’s important for the sake of stability in Iraq to get the Maliki government to appease the Awakening Councils. After all, the entire success of the U.S.-backed Awakening project in 2007 is predicated on the idea that appeasement, in specific cases, can reduce the pool of enemies that the U.S. faces. Don’t take it from me, take it from Maj. Gen. David Fastabend.)

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