WHAT'S BEING REPORTED:
Recent media reports have highlighted alleged tensions among U.S.-backed Sunni Awakening councils in Iraq as coalition forces prepare to transfer responsibility for the councils, also known as the Sons of Iraq program, to the Iraqi government. These tensions, according to reports, are undermining the U.S.'s attempts to sustain the security gains of the last year as it assesses downsizing its combat presence in Iraq.
UPI reported on September 23: "Iraq's Sunni Arab Awakening Councils are showing signs of restiveness as their U.S.-paid leaders face major changes, military sources say.... There is infighting, finger-pointing and even violence within the ranks of the councils, [also] known as the Sons of Iraq, as commanders jockey for position and higher pay, the Times said. ‘What you have is essentially armed factions, like mini-gangs, that operate in a certain set of checkpoints in certain territories,' Lt. Erick Kuylman, a U.S. Army patrol commander, said, adding that while the Awakening Councils met their original purpose of battling terrorists, ‘they have outlived, I think, their service since then.'"
WHAT IS MISSING?
These media reports tend to blur the distinction between two main Awakening initiatives, one Iraqi and the other American. Understanding the differences between the two, and their relationship with the Government of Iraq (GOI), is important to adequately assess their impact on security.
THE IRAQI AWAKENING
The Awakening credited for the decrease in violence in Iraq began as an Iraqi initiative that was supported by the GOI. In mid-2006 the Anbar Awakening, led by Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was an Iraqi attempt to create an emergency provincial government to replace the one that had been undermined by al-Qaeda and insurgents. In doing so, the Anbar Awakening promoted Iraqi police and Iraqi army recruitment, and worked closely with both Iraqi and coalition forces in bringing security to the province. While the Anbar Awakening did not succeed in creating an emergency government, it was partially integrated into the existing provincial government, and established a relationship with the GOI. As success in Anbar increased, Sunnis in other troubled areas of Iraq established contact with the Anbar Awakening leadership, and opened affiliate organizations outside of Anbar. During this process, the Awakening leadership strengthened its relationship with the government in Baghdad. The Anbar Awakening then evolved into different political parties (the main one being Mutammar Sahwat al-Iraq, or the Iraqi Awakening) that are registered to compete in future provincial elections. As a result, the Iraqi Awakening has established a strong relationship with Baghdad.
THE SONS OF IRAQ
The other initiative, which is actually the group being discussed in a large portion of media coverage, was led by coalition forces in mid-2007 as an attempt to copy and paste the success of the Anbar Awakening into Sunni areas of Baghdad, Salahideen, and Diyala. This American initiative became known as the Sons of Iraq program-where basically marginalized Sunnis, including former insurgents, were recruited, equipped and paid by the Americans, and called Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs). CLCs manned security posts and worked with coalition forces in security operations. CLCs were basically coalition forces employees, and most had little contact with the Government of Iraq. Many of these CLCs informally organized themselves, and were later called Awakening councils. However, these Awakening councils were not necessarily affiliated with the Anbar Awakening. Some of these Awakening councils had no intention of reconciling with the GOI; as a result, the GOI has been cautious to fully integrate them into the Iraqi security forces.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Saying that the GOI has bad relations with the Awakening, and that this threatens its successes, is misleading. While the Sons of Iraq program employs nearly 100,000 CLCs whose jobs may be in jeopardy once the GOI takes over the program, this has little bearing on the GOI's relationship with the Awakening. It is true that the Iraqi Awakening and other Sunni politicians are trying ensure that the CLCs be given adequate employment opportunities, whether in security or public service, as they transfer from the American to the Iraqi payroll. But the Iraqi Awakening and other Sunni parties are doing so largely out of a desire to gain constituents, rather trying to defend themselves from a GOI threat to the Awakening's existence.
WHAT SHOULD BE TAKEN AWAY FROM THIS?
The Iraqi Awakening was the result of an Iraqi initiative supported by the GOI, and now is now a leading contender in the upcoming provincial elections. The Iraqi Awakening was integrated into the new Iraq because it was led by Iraqis who early on established a relationship with the GOI. The Sons of Iraq program, in contrast, was an American initiative that employed disparate Sunnis who were not linked to the GOI, and in some cases had no desire for such a relationship. It is important to distinguish between these two different initiatives when trying to understand the dynamic relationship between the Awakening movement and the GOI.