Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq: Oct ‘08

IWPR stories said to have contributed to better understanding of problems arising from dissolution of Awakening Councils and Shia displacement.
By Roman Zagros
Politicians and rights activists in Iraq have credited IWPR stories with providing important insights into key problems facing the country.

The possibility of a US-backed Sunni militia rejoining the insurgency after an Iraqi government plan to integrate only a fifth into the armed forces was raised in a special IWPR report in October.

The concern came as US forces handed back control of the largely Sunni militia forces known as the Awakening Councils (Al-Sahwa) to the Shia-led government. The piece underlined fears that sectarian rivalries could prompt some members of these groups to rejoin the insurgency.

Sad al-Hadithi, a professor of political science at the University of Baghdad said, "It is a story that shows the real force of tribal support for the armed forces in establishing the rule of law in tense areas that was difficult even for the Americans to control.”

The Iraqi government’s announcement of a plan to integrate only 20 per cent of the fighters, who helped Iraqi and US forces fight al-Qaeda, prompted IWPR to raise the question of whether the government will offer demobbed Awakening Council militiamen other work. The piece also looked at the risk of them rejoining the insurgency if they’re not catered for.

“I hope the government and the provincial councils will not refrain from providing for those brave fighters of al-Sahwa who confronted terror,” al-Hadithi said.

Said al-Fayadh, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party from Anbar province, said, "The opinions presented in the story explain that the government is not serious about integrating all the fighters, and looks at some of them with a sectarian and narrow view … The story is unique in explaining this subject to the international public opinion."

Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki pledged to integrate some 20 per cent of militia members into the army and police, and to find government jobs for the rest as positions become free.

However, al-Sahwa members fear the government could renege on its promise and hoped that IWPR’s story could help draw government attention to the scale of the problem.

"What matters to us is that for the government to take care of us more than the US did,” said Osama Mahmud al-Jumayli, a 29-year-old Al-Sahwa member from the Al-Amiriyah district west of Baghdad. “I hope that this story will make its way to the officials, to attract their attention and take care of us, and try to integrate us.”

Another IWPR story looked into the reluctance of displaced Shia families to return to their homes in the predominantly-Sunni province of Anbar.

On September 1, US forces handed over control of Anbar to the Iraqis.

The transfer of the province – once the centre for the Sunni insurgency and the birthplace of al-Qaeda in Iraq – was hailed as an important milestone in the US plan to cede security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.

It was also taken by many as evidence that the once restive province is now at peace.

Yet in spite of this, some of those Shia minorities forced to leave during the insurgency, which peaked in 2006, are not keen to return.

"The story gives real and vivid [proof] that many of the displaced in Baghdad and all of Iraq refused to return to their homes,” said lawyer Thayer Fatah, a human rights activist and member of Hamurabi society for human rights and international law.

Hadithi, the political science professor, said the story “reflects a bitter reality our people have experience recently.

“It is important that you provide an opportunity to the foreign readers to know about such events”.

Roman Zagros is an IWPR editor in Sulaimaniyah.