AINA News
Former Iraq Awakening Members Joining ISIS
By Nuri Kino

(AINA) -- They were called Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, and were created by the U.S. to defend their own country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. They were secular Sunnis who wanted to fight the jihadists and fundamentalism in Iraq. But over time, they came to see the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government as their biggest enemy.

In 2004, a year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Sunni jihadist members of Al-Qaeda began to pour into the country from around the world. The Americans, along with their allies, such as Great Britain, could not stop the rampage in the country. But it was not just Sunni jihadists who plunged the country into chaos, it was power-hungry clan leaders and criminals released from prison at the time of the invasion, which also formed gangs and Shiite militias. The Iraqis were stricken with terror: kidnapping, murder, robbery and burglary became routine. The situation was worse for the minorities such as the Christian Assyrians and the fourth Abrahamic religion, the Mandeans, who didn't have their own militia.

In 2007, four years after the U.S. invasion, the U.S. was criticized greatly for its failure to stabilize the country. The U.S. government realized that they must cooperate with Sunnis to regain control of the situation. They negotiated with a number of Sunni leaders, who belonged to Saddam Hussein's army. Being that the Americans and the Sunni leaders had had enough of foreign jihadists, who felt they had the right to rule in Iraq, the two powers had a common cause. Hence, the U.S. created Sahwa (Sons of Iraq), which in English means "the awakening." Sahwa consisted of 100,000 ex-soldiers, militiamen and other Sunni men across Iraq who were hired by the Americans to combat Al-Qaeda Sunni jihadists. With the creation of Sahwa, the security situation in Iraq improved rapidly and Sahwa succeeded in their task. This cost the U.S. at least 15 million dollars per month in wages.

Iraq is a federal republic. The country voted for a new constitution in 2005, which was based on a compromise between religious and secular forces. Legislative power lies with the parliament, which consists of the lower house and the upper house. The parliamentary elections in March 2010 were deemed to have been as free and fair as possible under the circumstances. Nuri al-Maliki was elected prime minister and formed his new government.

But in 2008, al-Maliki was accused of undermining Sahwa's authority two years prior and for arresting and falsely accusing the leaders of the Movement for criminal acts. Al-Maliki, a Shiite, did not want a Sunni power. In 2010, the American exodus from Iraq began, as the last U.S. combat brigade left the country. In December 2011, the U.S. withdrew from Iraq completely.

The Iraqi population is about 60 percent Shiite and 18 percent Sunni. The rest are Christians, Yezidis, or Mandaeans -- minorities which will soon be a small relic of the country's history. No one has an interest in protecting them, unlike the Shiites, who are linked to Iran, and Sunnis who are backed by Saudi Arabia.

When the U.S. began to leave the country and handed it to Nuri al-Maliki's Shia-dominated government, Sahwa dissolved. One hundred thousand Iraqi men who had fought against Al-Qaeda were left with neither arms, nor a salary. Many were killed, others imprisoned, and a large number fled.

"In last week's reporting from Iraq, Sahwa is not mentioned," says Sahwa's leader, now residing in Europe, via telephone call on June 14, 2014, "it's as if we never existed. But the truth is that, in Mosul, Sahwa members who had been set free from prison by ISIS have joined ISIS. We hated extremism and fundamentalism, but now we see the ISIS, which is an evolution of our enemy, Al-Qaeda, as the only possibility to stop the oppression and persecution of the Sunnis in Iraq. The enemy of my enemy has become my friend."

He continues:

"Every time Iraq begins stabilize the U.S. does something to destroy the country. In 2003 they invaded Iraq and disbanded the entire infrastructure. In 2007, when they saw that they could not get control of the situation, they asked for help and Sahwa formed. Then, they gave power to al-Maliki. He dissolved Sahwa and decimated Sunnis. So ISIS was formed and the country is facing the greatest crisis of all. Now when al-Maliki asks for help to stop ISIS from taking over the country, the U.S. doesn't want to help him. The U.S. does not want a united stable Iraq, they want pieces of the former Iraq, it is now very clear."

First published on medium.com. For hour-by-hour updates on the Iraq crisis from those on the ground, follow Nuri Kino on Twitter.


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