NEWS: U.S.-backed insurgents find empowering role

New leaders of Sunnis make gains in influence

Saad Mahami wanted more firepower. He didn’t trust the Iraqi government to give him support, so inside Patrol Base Whiskey, at the edge of this village south of Baghdad, he told U.S. commanders that his 71 Sunni fighters needed additional weapons to fight the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

As he listened to Mahami’s demand, Capt. David Underwood reminded his superiors that Mahami’s men — all members of a U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitary movement called Sahwa, or “Awakening” — were already buying arms with U.S. reward money for finding enemy ammunition dumps. “And as we confiscate weapons, we hand them to Saad Mahami,” Underwood told Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the top commander in the region, during their meeting with the Iraqi.

The United States is empowering a new group of Sunni leaders, including onetime members of former president Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, intelligence services and army, who are challenging established Sunni politicians for their community’s leadership. The phenomenon marks a sharp turnaround in U.S. policy and the fortunes of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

The new leaders are decidedly against Iraq’s U.S.-backed, Shiite-led government, which is wary of the Awakening movement’s growing influence, viewing it as a potential threat when U.S. troops withdraw. The mistrust suggests how easily last year’s security improvements could come undone in a still-brittle Iraq. [complete article]

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