By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
Iraqis bore the brunt of another violent week, however the tempo of insurgent attacks waned, possibly due to a lack of resources or as the focus of their operations shifted to the fighting against the rebel groups and Kurdish militias in Northern Syria / Iraq. Despite this drop off in tempo it has remained a bloody week as insurgents pushed through a limited number of spectacular bombings that killed hundreds, especially around the cities of Mosul and Baghdad.
There has also been a significant increase in attacks against the Sahwa militia groups as al Qaeda maintains its pressure against the government and those who support it. Most of these attacks, preceded by developed intimidation campaigns, have taken the form of shootings and stealthy assassinations aimed at weakening the Sahwa position within the Sunni community. There is also evidence showing that many Sahwa fighters are being offered the chance to defect to al Qaeda rather than fight for the government. Sahwa fighters themselves now face difficult choices as their position becomes less concrete and they feel the ire of fellow Sunnis as resentment builds towards the Shi’ite-led government.
The Sahwa position is a tenuous one at present. They have been instrumental in weakening al Qaeda over these past few years and had become a potent force and intelligence-gathering platform for operations against al Qaeda. In their heyday, the Sahwa mustered around 103,000 men, but the number has declined to no more than 38,000 since the U.S. military relinquished security control in Iraq in 2010, according to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s reconciliation adviser Amir al-Khuzaie. Some have been integrated into the government apparatus but in the main they have become marginalized, unsupported and ineffective, which many senior ISF commanders have come to see as a serious weakening of the government security position. In a recent interview with Reuters an ISF officer was quoted as saying that “Sahwa (fighters) have left a big gap after they abandoned their positions and stopped securing their areas, they know exactly the areas where al Qaeda and other militants are operating, how to abort their attacks, chase and hunt them,” the officer said. Facing this invigorated Sunni insurgency, Iraqi security officials have reported that Iraqi PM Maliki had decided to revive the Sahwa project however, a number of Iraqi commentators said Maliki had in fact undermined the Sahwa by encouraging divisions among Sunni tribal leaders in order to control them, which will undoubtedly make the proposition somewhat harder to follow through on.