x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iraq suicide bombings kill Sahwa fighters

The attackers kill 48 people in two separate attacks targeting anti-al Qa'eda militiamen, in the country's bloodiest day in months.

BAGHDAD //Suicide bombings in Baghdad and on the Iraq-Syria border killed at least 48 people and injured scores more today, in attacks on anti-al Qa'eda tribal forces. The first explosion hit members of a Sahwa, or Awakening Council, as they queued to collect overdue salaries at an army base in the Radwaniya district, south-west of Baghdad. The blast killed 45 people and wounded more than 40, making it the worst single attack on Iraqi security forces this year. A military official in Baghdad's central operations command, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The National that the bomber was believed to have been a former Sahwa Council member. The second attack, which took place in al Qaim, on the Iraq-Syria border, was similar but claimed fewer lives. A militant wearing a suicide vest stormed into the headquarters of a local Sahwa Council and started shooting. As they returned fire he detonated his bomb, killing at least three and wounding six others. Security officials in the area also believe he was a former Sahwa member, which, if true, is an alarming development. Tribal leaders have warned that the Sahwa Councils, which played a key role in stabilising the country since 2006, are now in danger of unravelling as the Iraqi government phases out US$300 (Dh1,100) per fighter monthly payments. That cash, previously handed over by the US military, underpinned the Sahwa movement, by which tribes that had been allied with al Qa'eda switched sides with ruthless efficiency, turning their guns on the Islamic militants. The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, never happy about having well-armed Sunni tribal militias, decided to wind them down, promising to find alternative jobs for fighters. But, with unemployment rife, that has not been happening according to tribal leaders, leaving disillusioned and impoverished former Sahwa members to look, once more, in the direction of al Qa'eda. "We suspect the bomber had been in the Sahwa but the Iraqi government stopped paying the salaries for some of the members so he returned to al Qa'eda," Humood Khalaf, an Iraqi police lieutenant in al Qaim, said in a telephone interview. "This is a serious problem and indicates that some of the people who used to work for the Sahwa are working for al Qa'eda now." Abu Rafaat, 59, a Sahwa council leader in al Qaim, said the attack came as part of a stiffening resistance by Islamic militants in the area. "Al Qa'eda hit us from time to time, and we still hit them regularly but the war is much more difficult than it was in 2006," he said. "The al Qa'eda fighters are living among us and have good relations with society so it's hard to find them." The economic situation in al Qaim was described as dire by residents, making it an ideal place for Islamist militancy to flourish. "The situation is getting worse and worse here," said Saad Abed al Jaleel, 26, an unemployed graduate of teacher training college. "We have no work, there are no real government services here - actually we have nothing. Al Qa'eda attracts the young who don't have jobs." A further two members of Sahwa Councils were wounded in minor attacks south of Baghdad today. More than four months after March's parliamentary election, Iraqi politicians have yet to agree on a new government. Militants have continued to stage attacks during the impasse, although US commanders say they remain on course to cut their forces to 50,000 by the beginning of September. foreign.desk@thenational.ae