One of the central planks of the US strategy to pacify Iraq has begun to unravel – just as it prepares to draw down its troops from the country.
The US and its allies in the Iraqi government have turned on the “Awakening Councils” – around 90,000 former resistance fighters who switched sides at the height of the insurgency.
These militias, also known as the “Sons of Iraq”, had turned their guns on other resistance groups in return for a US promise to pull out of Sunni Muslim areas.
The deal marked the end of the insurgency in western Iraq and parts of the capital of Baghdad. Those fighters who refused to accept the deal were labelled as “Al Qaida” and killed.
In return, the councils were given effective control over Sunni neighbourhoods and paid a monthly wage.
They were also given a pledge that they could hold onto their weapons to keep a check on Shia Muslim death squads that had been attacking the resistance.
The US was then able to declare a victory of sorts and set a date for transferring its troops to Afghanistan.
But late last year the US stopped its payments of wages and promised the Iraqi government – run by parties linked to the death squads – would pay the bill.
Further promises were made offering to incorporate the council fighters into Iraq’s security forces.
But the Iraqi government has reneged on the deal and began arresting or killing off key council leaders.
This sparked a brief uprising in March after Iraqi security forces seized the head of the Awakening Council in the Fadhil neighbourhood of Baghdad.
In a sign of frustration, the US commander for Baghdad said, “These men had broken faith with their fellow Sons of Iraq, the Iraqi people and us.”
The growing discontent among the Awakening Councils has been marked by a return of roadside bombs targeting US troops and a string of bomb attacks against Shia areas.