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Iraq Sunni Militia Leader Fears Exit Of U.S. Troops

Disarmed members of the Sunni militia man a checkpoint in Baghdad.
Disarmed members of the Sunni militia man a checkpoint in Baghdad.
BAGHDAD -- A leader of a government-backed Sunni militia in Iraq has expressed fears they will be targeted by Al-Qaeda now that the U.S. military is completing its withdrawal of combat forces from the country, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.

The Sons of Iraq, also known as Sahwa or Awakening Councils, are militias that began cooperating with U.S. troops in the fight against Al-Qaeda in 2006.

Sheikh Amir al-Fawaz, who is an Awakening Council leader in the north of Baghdad, told RFE/RL on August 25 the U.S. withdrawal and negligence on the part of the government was fuelling such fears.

"Our sons made a lot of sacrifices, but here we see the American forces are leaving and the Iraqi government is not paying much attention to us. They made a lot of promises, but still nothing is tangible. Of course there are fears," Fawaz said.

The U.S. military in Iraq has cut its strength to under 50,000, ahead of a scheduled August 31 end to combat operations.

But Muhammad Hasun al-Anbari, an Awakening leader in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, said the Sons of Iraq cooperated and coordinated well with the security forces and were no longer afraid.

"We did have big fears before. But now that the security forces are acting, cooperating, and coordinating with us, we feel OK. People are also helping us in every way possible. We do not have any kind of fear," he said.

The Iraqi government considers apprehension misplaced. Zuhair al-Chalabi, the government official responsible for Awakening Councils affairs, says the Sons of Iraq have nothing of be afraid of after the U.S. withdrawal. He adds that a new plan is to be put in place to protect them and also to use their potential.

"The Sons of Iraq are now part of the security network in Iraq," Chalabi says. "I do not think there is any kind of danger to them. And if there is one, it will also be a danger for all the security forces. Their task now is to stay in their areas and be active and protect those regions."

Chalabi says a new plan is to be submitted next week to protect the Awakening Councils and to make use of their potential.

He says there's also a plan to create joint patrols of security forces and Sons of Iraq to provide security in different regions.

Six Sahwa militia fighters were killed by insurgents early today near Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, the latest in a series of attacks.