/ 14 April 2009

US-backed Iraqi militias ‘plotting attacks’

Some of the Iraqi former insurgents recruited by United States forces to fight al-Qaeda are secretly plotting to launch terror attacks of their own, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi warned on Tuesday.

Abdel Mahdi’s comments came amid tension between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government and the Sahwa, or ”Awakening Movement” of militias and former insurgents who switched sides to fight alongside the Americans.

The recruits are now paid by the Iraqi government, and many thousands have been integrated into the Iraqi security forces, but others recently clashed with government troops after a series of arrests of Sahwa leaders.

”It was a movement that allowed us to chase al-Qaeda out of Anbar Province, so it was supported by the government and the Iraqi people. Without the Sahwa it would have been very hard to get rid of al-Qaeda,” Abdel Mahdi said.

”We agreed to integrate tens of thousands of Sahwa members in the armed forces, but certain groups took up the Sahwa banner, in Baghdad and elsewhere, even some terrorist groups,” he told reporters during a visit to Paris.

”Sometimes we can’t distinguish between the two — the original Sahwa and the falsely created Sahwa. The pretend Sahwa is these groups who are waiting for the right moment to strike,” he warned, speaking in French.

”That’s why there have been arrests when we have discovered their links with other terrorist groups,” he added, while insisting: ”But the original Sahwa is a true movement that allowed us to restore order in the country.”

Abdel Mahdi said the Sahwa groups established in Anbar Province in western Iraq and in some areas of Baghdad, such as that in the mainly Sunni downtown district of Adhamiyah, were legitimate and in touch with government.

US forces began paying and working with local armed groups in 2006 as some Iraqi tribal and insurgent groups began to turn against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the local franchise of Osama bin Laden’s international extremist movement.

Since then, responsibility for paying and finding work for the mainly Sunni groups has moved to Maliki’s Shiite-led government, but tensions remain.

Last month clashes erupted in Baghdad after security forces arrested a Sahwa leader accused of murder and extortion and Maliki has said some Sahwa units are infiltrated by al-Qaeda or former dictator Saddam Hussein’s banned Ba’ath Party. — Sapa-AFP