Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Awakening Councils and the Future of Iraq

The New York Times reported today that Sunnis in Iraq formerly allied with the U.S. appear to be (re)joining the Qaeda-led insurgency. The article cites militia leaders in Salah ad Din, Diyala, and Baghdad governorates. The Awakening Councils played a critical role in defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq, initially in Anbar province. (For a compelling interpretation of how this actually happened, see John McCary's The Anbar Awakening: An Alliance of Incentives.) Although the Iraqi central government politicians interviewed in the article deny that such defections are taking place, there seems little reason to doubt that fighters are leaving the employ of the government or threatening to do so. Apparently, the tribal militiamen and their commanders have had enough of the Iraqi central government refusing to pay them or grant them immunity from prosecution. They see little reason to co-operate with the Shi'i-dominated federal government. With American forces leaving Iraq, the Sunni tribes in places like al-Anbar are now renegotiating their role in the Iraqi order. It is unlikely that they will want to surrender their sources of income to al-Qaeda, as they almost did in the bad years of the insurgency. But they need more assurances than they have been getting from Baghdad and from the U.S. The Iraqi security forces are not strong enough to govern areas dominated by the tribes in western Iraq and in the Sunni governorates. Whoever ends up taking charge in Baghdad will have to make concessions to them.

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