NEWS: The threat from the militias; divisions among Sunnis

Exit al-Qaeda. Enter the militias?

In 2007 the United States military put its most dangerous enemy on the run. In 2008 it may face an even more entrenched foe. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the primary target of the American troop surge and counter-insurgency strategy, appears to be on its last legs after a year of being attacked from all sides. But Shi’ite militias, which have deep roots in Iraq’s Shi’a communities and the Shi’ite-dominated government, may now pose a more serious long-term threat.

In some ways AQI was a victim of its own success. It is practically the only organization in Iraq that all the other players in the country saw as an unacceptable threat. Both the U.S. military and the Shi’ite-dominated government had fought the Sunni jihadist group for years. By the beginning of 2007, Sunni tribal leaders and nationalist insurgents had also begun battling with their former allies in AQI in order to retake control of Sunni communities. [complete article]

Sunnis divided in Anbar province

From a podium decked in flowers and the Iraqi flag, a Sunni Muslim sheik in a pinstriped suit politely welcomed the Shiite guests who had driven up from Baghdad, before launching into a tirade about the lack of jobs and essential services in this former insurgent bastion.

The focus of his anger, however, was not the Shiite-led national government, but fellow Sunni Arabs on the Anbar provincial council.

Anbar is the success story of the U.S. strategy to combat the insurgency from the ground up by striking alliances with local leaders. But though the tribal sheiks’ rebellion against the militants they once backed has calmed the region and opened the door to political dialogue with Iraq’s majority Shiites, it has deepened divisions among Sunnis.

As violence has faded, an argument has been raging over who really speaks for Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority: the province’s largely secular and fiercely independent tribal leaders, who resisted the U.S. invasion, or the main Sunni political party, an Islamist group led by former exiles who cooperated with the Americans from the start. [complete article]

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