Saddam Redux: U.S. Allies Itself with Sunni Strongmen

The Sunni "awakening" groups formed by American forces to fight Al Qaida have successfully decreased attacks on Iraqi security forces and US troops, but have not eased the fears of citizens, according to residents.

"Abu Riyad, the awakening leader in our district, is stronger than the Americans, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. He orders, arrests and releases [people], pardons and punishes and this situation is no different from when the Al Adhimiya district was under Al Qaida's control," Najeel Ahmad, a resident of Al Adhimiya, told Gulf News.

Gunmen

"The residents of the district have many fears and concerns. The decision to arrest and kill residents is done by Riyadh, so the situation is still bad," he added.

Abu Riyadh, Abu Abed, Abu Nour and Abu Mashriq are all leaders of Sunni "awakening" groups.

It has become very normal, in many Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad, to see hundreds of gunmen inspecting visitors, strangers and even residents, locals say.

Haja Um Zuhair told Gulf News: "I am from Al Ameria and every time I go shopping, my basket is subject to inspection. On every street are members affiliated to awakening leader Abu Abed.

"The reality has not changed for the better, raids and shootings are still happening. I can say that the situation has improved in terms of not targeting American or Iraqi forces, but people are still living in fear," she added.

Locals say that if someone wants to visit another district, he must inform the leader in his district, who will contact his counterpart in the other district.

One resident, Munaf Al Jabori, described the system. "I live in Al Saydia and in order to visit Al Ameria district I have to inform Abu Noor, the leader in Al Saydia, who will contact Abu Abed, the leader in Al Ameria, then Abu Nour gives me a paper to enter Al Ameria and this will keep me safe. I wonder where the government and law are?"

The suffering of Sunni residents does not end there. Haji Abu Ragheed said: "The district's leader sent his followers to ask my son to join them, otherwise he will be barred from the district. Anyone who refuses to join the awakening groups will be killed, arrested and charged with cooperating with Al Qaida."

Muthefer Al Esawi, a political researcher, told Gulf News: "The American army financed and trained warlords in Sunni neighbourhoods to fight Al Qaida. I think Americans did not consider Iraqis' feelings."

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