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Originally published Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Iraq leaders shun Sunni ex-insurgents

A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces.

McClatchy Newspapers

Developments in Iraq

Raids criticized: Top Sunni politicians on Wednesday accused Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces of carrying out political arrests, and warned that this could push Iraq into another round of sectarian fighting. On Tuesday, Iraqi forces raided Baqouba in the volatile Diyala province, where a Sunni university professor and provincial council member were taken. Late Tuesday, a special-forces unit arrested the son of a senior Sunni politician, Adnan al-Dulaimi. Al-Dulaimi said his 44-year-old son, Muthanna, is not involved in politics, and that his arrest was meant to silence his father.

Troop-pullout deal: Iraqi and U.S. negotiators have completed a draft security agreement that would see American troops leave Iraqi cities as soon as June 30, Iraqi and American officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The Iraqi government has pushed for a specific date — most likely the end of 2011 — by which all U.S. forces would depart the country.

Saddam's train: Iraqi railway officials say executed former President Saddam Hussein's personal luxury train will return to service next month. Officials say the 23-carriage train will ferry passengers from Baghdad to the southern city of Basra.

Seattle Times news services

BAGHDAD — A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces.

American officials have credited the militias, known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils, with undercutting support for the group al-Qaida in Iraq and bringing peace to large swaths of the country, including Anbar province and parts of Baghdad. Under the program, the United States pays each militia member a stipend of about $300 a month and promised that they'd get jobs with the Iraqi government.

But the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiite Muslims, has brought only a relative handful of the more than 100,000 militia members into the security forces. Now officials are making it clear that they don't intend to include most of the rest.

"We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al-Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al-Qaida."

He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

Some militia members say such a move would force them into open warfare with the government again.

"If they disband us now, I will tell you that history will show we will go back to zero," said Mullah Shahab al-Aafi, a former emir, or leader, of insurgents in Diyala province who's the acting commander of 24,000 Sons of Iraq there, 11,000 of whom are on the U.S. payroll. "I will not give up my weapons. I will never give them up, and I will carry my weapon again. If it is useless to talk to the government, I will be forced to carry my weapons and my pistol."

After initially embracing the idea of bringing the militia members into the security forces, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn't followed through. A committee that al-Maliki formed to organize the militias' transition to full-fledged government security troops fell apart and was reconstituted only recently. U.S. officials acknowledge that the hiring of the Sunnis has slowed to a crawl.

U.S. and Iraqi officials agree that the al-Maliki government never agreed to hire more than 20 percent of the militia members. An al-Maliki ally said it was unreasonable to expect otherwise.

"All the Americans are doing is paying them just to be quiet," said Haider al-Abadi, a leading member of al-Maliki's Dawa political party and the head of the economic and investment committee in the parliament. The Iraqi government, he said, can't "justify paying monthly salaries to people on the grounds that they are ex-insurgents."

The best that most of them could expect is to be placed in vocational training for trades such as bricklaying and plumbing, along with a slew of other unemployed people.

The government has allocated $150 million for such training. So far this year, the U.S. military has spent $303 million on Sons of Iraq salaries.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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