There is, however, a measure of security for the first time in years, and the U.S.-backed Sunni militia that was stood up here, known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils, say it's the reason for the change.
"Even the friendly (U.S.) troops could not liberate this area," said Khaled Jamal al Qaisi, a colonel in Saddam Hussein's army and the commander of the Sunni militia in Fadl, as he proudly walked the streets of his neighborhood.
The above is from Leila Fadel's "Surge test: Will Iraq's government back Sunni militias?" (McClatchy Newspapers) on the 'handover' that is supposed to take place today of over 50,000 members of the "Awakening" Council from under the control of the US military to the control of the puppet government in Baghdad. The "Awakening" Council is composed of Sunni thugs put on the US payroll because, as US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker explained to the Congress repeatedly in April, if the US doesn't fork over their lunch money, the thugs attack. Puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki has staffed his ministries with his own thugs, Shi'ite ones, and the 'handover' will attempt to incorporate two sets of extremists into one body. Ann Scott Tyson's "Violence Declines Further in Iraq" (Washington Post) offers an overview of a rah-rah Pentagon report that includes a few points on the "Awakening" Councils:
One major concern is the Iraqi government's delays in reintegrating the nearly 100,000 predominantly Sunni volunteer fighters known as the Sons of Iraq into the army, police or other jobs, it said. "Integration of the SOI remains critical to providing stable security," the Pentagon report said, adding that the Sunni volunteer forces suffer from "low-level infiltration by insurgent groups," including the main Sunni insurgent group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Tensions between the government and Sunni volunteers are particularly high in Diyala province, where the Sunni population is fearful that the government is using military operations ostensibly aimed at al-Qaeda in Iraq as a pretext to "arrest, intimidate, or kill moderate Sunnis and SOI groups who are otherwise interested in participating in the political processes," the report found.
Diyala, a demographically mixed Sunni and Shiite province east of Baghdad, remains one of the most violent in Iraq and one where al-Qaeda continues to conduct suicide attacks and "enjoys some freedom of movement" in mountains and rural areas, according to the report.
As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden held a hearing entitled "Iraq After The Surge" on April 2nd. In that hearing, the now deceased Lt. General William E. Odom offered this on the "Awakening" Councils:
Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. I have heard, for example, a rough estimate that the cost in one area of about 100 square kilometers is $250,000 per day. And periodically they threaten to defect unless their fees are increased. You might want to find out the total costs for these deals forecasted for the next several years, because they are not small and they do not promise to end. Remember, we do not own these people. We merely rent them. And they can break their lease at any moment.
During the second panel that day, Senator Barbara Boxer had several strong moments including this exchange with War Hawk Stephen Biddle (Council on Foreign Relations) about the Shi'ite thugs Nouri al-Maliki employs:
Barbara Boxer: Did you just say that Maliki uses the Iraqi security forces as his militia? Did you say that?
Barbara Boxer: If that's true and Maliki uses his military as a force to bring about peace -- that's scandalous and that we would have paid $20 million to train [it] and someone that we consider an expert says it's a militia, that's shocking.
It is scandalous. April 8th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held another hearing and from that day's snapshot, we'll note this on Boxer:
She wanted to know about the training, all the training, that had gone on and then on again. "We've done a lot for the Iraqis just in terms of the numbers themselves," Boxer declared. "I'll tell you what concerns me and most of my constituents, you said -- many times -- the gains in Iraq are fragile and reversible. . . . So my constituents and I believe that" after all the deaths, all the money, "you have to wonder why the best that you can say is that the gains are fragile and reversible." Noting the lack of military success and Hagel's points, Boxer pointed out that nothing was being done diplomatically "and I listened carefully to Senator Hagel and Ambassador Crocker -- from the answer you gave him, I don't get the" feeling that the White House has given anything, it's still "the status quo. She then turned to the issue of monies and the militias, "You are asking us for millions more to pay off the militias and, by the way, I have an article here that says Maliki recently told a London paper that he was concerned about half of them" and wouldn't put them into the forces because he doubts their loyalty. She noted that $182 million a year was being paid, $18 million a month, to these "Awakening" Council members and "why don't you ask the Iraqis to pay the entire cost of that program" because as Senator Lugar pointed out, "It could be an opportunity" for the Iraqi government "to turn it into something more long term." This is a point, she declared, that she intends to bring up when it's time to vote on the next spending supplemental. Crocker tried to split hairs.
Boxer: I asked you why they couldn't pay for it. . . . I don't want to argue a point. . . I'm just asking you why we would object to asking them to pay for that entire program giving all that we are giving them in blood and everything else?
Crocker declared that he'd take that point back to Iraq when he returned.
April 8, 2008, Boxer raised the issue of payment. al-Maliki's puppet government is expected to run a surplus of $79 billion this year and al-Maliki just sits on the money, refusing to spend it on bringing Iraqis potable water, electricity or any of the basic necessities. It's long past time the puppet paid for the thug protection. Some might argue it only took six months after Boxer raised the issue for the White House to take action; however, that's a misreading. The US tax payers will still be paying many thugs. From Tim Albone's "Militiamen praised for peace seek new military paymasters" (Times of London):
The Sunni fighters are eager to take positions in the official security services, where life is more secure and pay, conditions and equipment are better. The starting salary for a police officer is $470 (£261) a month, while a Son of Iraq gets $300, though most take home between $130 and $150. The police also receive life insurance.
Senior US military sources said that America would pay the salaries of any members of the force who did not find alternative employment. "It is a cheap price to pay in the interests of peace in Iraq," one officer said.
Jalaluddin Al-Sagheer, a Shia MP of the United Iraqi Alliance, said that the Sons of Iraq were no more than a temporary measure. "It is believed that the situation which required the Sahwas [Sons of Iraq] to be formed has now, to a large extent, gone," he added.
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Then tonight, sit back and watch a live feed of Ralph Nader's speech to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club at 9:30 p.m. EST.
Topic A: The Bailout of Wall Street Crooks and the Grassroots Uprising Against the Corporate Dominated Two Party System.
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We'll include it in the next entry as well.
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