Iraqi Government Fails to Integrate Sunni Fighters

Over the past two years, Sunni fighters who were waging an insurgency against the American military and the Iraqi government have turned against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, their former allies.  This phenomenon is known as the “Sunni Awakening,” and it is widely considered to be partly, if not mostly, responsible for the significant decline in violence in Iraq since the “surge” of US troops in the country. 


Under an agreement made between the Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni Awakening Councils, the Sunni militiamen who took on Al Qaeda were supposed to be integrated into the security forces and other parts of the government.  Thus far, the administration of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has failed to fulfill its promise to bring 20 percent of the militants into the police force and the rest into other ministries.  Of the 94,000 Awakening members, only 5,000, approximately five percent, have joined the security apparatus.


Leaders of the Awakening Councils also complain that large numbers of fighters have been arrested despite promises of amnesty, and that others have not been paid on time.


After decades of being dominated by Sunnis and years of being targeted by Sunni militiamen, the Shiite-controlled government is wary of the Sunni combatants, which could explain its hesitance to integrate them into the security forces.  Another factor contributing to the slow process is the sharp drop in tax revenue due to the fall of oil prices since the beginning of the current global financial crisis.  The government now has less money with which to hire new employees.


American officials worry that disgruntled Sunnis might realign with Al Qaeda if they continue to feel marginalized and financially desperate. 


Adil al-Mashadani, an Awakening Council leader in Baghdad, said “When the government does not even pay them enough to stay alive, Qaeda and armed groups are ready to pay them generously.”


Awakening members currently make $250 to $300 a month, whereas police officers and soldiers earn $600 and $750 a month, respectively.


On an editorial note, the US should continue to pay fighters and leaders of the Awakening movement as American military units are withdrawn from Iraq.  Given that the US has already spent roughly $1 trillion on the war, the cost of funding the Sunni groups seems negligible.  Keeping the Sunnis from rejoining the insurgency would greatly contribute to the effort to stabilize Iraq.  The practice of buying off the Sunnis does not have to continue indefinitely, although the annual provision of billions of dollars worth of financial assistance to the Egyptian and Israeli governments since the American-brokered Peace Accords between the two countries could be a model for Iraq if the Shiites fails to sufficiently integrate the Sunnis into the organs of state.


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