Sons of Iraq movement suffers another blow
A moderate Sunni paramilitary leader allied with the Americans was detained by Iraqi forces, his deputies said Sunday, in an illustration of how the Shiite-led government has humbled a nationwide movement that emerged two years ago to help end the Iraqi insurgency.
Iraqi authorities also continued their drive against supporters of another paramilitary leader, arresting at least seven of his backers and taking away their weapons. Those fighters were loyal to Adel Mashadani, the fiery leader of the Sons of Iraq group in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood, who was detained Saturday.
The arrest of Raad Ali, who helped the Americans stabilize the west Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliya, came to light Sunday, five days after the Iraqi army picked him up in a midnight raid, his aides said.
Ali had a close working relationship with the Americans, shared a military base with them, and said he had briefed visiting U.S. diplomats from Afghanistan about the Sons of Iraq movement.
Ali spoke regularly about the need for Sunnis to enter the political mainstream and leave behind their insurgency.
“What happened in 2003 happened. Then killings and displacements happened. There was no hope and no future,” Ali told The Times last fall. “I changed my path and wanted to work with the government and the Americans. The Americans accepted me.”
His measured tone stood in sharp contrast to Mashadani, who accused the Iraqi government of working for Iran.
The arrests of Ali and Mashadani showed how much the nationwide Sunni paramilitary movement has fallen. When the former insurgents first struck alliances with the Americans, the hope was that the U.S. military would help broker their entrance into the political mainstream and ensure that their fighters would be given jobs in the police force or army.
Instead, some have fled into exile; others have been arrested or slain. Those not in jail worry that they could be detained at any moment.
The Iraqi government promised to put 20% of the Sons of Iraq movement, estimated at nearly 100,000 individuals, into security jobs. But so far, only an estimated 5,000 have been hired.
The government has treated some Sunni leaders well, notably in western Anbar province, but others have been dealt with harshly. The U.S. military appears to be struggling to protect the men.
In Fadhil, at least seven fighters were detained Sunday, said one of Mashadani’s deputies, Abdul Razzaq. The army blockaded the neighborhood with Humvees and personnel carriers. Some fighters handed in their weapons after negotiations, the day after Mashadani’s supporters and the Iraqi security forces clashed following their leader’s arrest.
The government accused Mashadani of running a secret wing of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and his supporters of abusing their power.
“We made it clear that no one is above the law,” said Mohammed Salman, the head of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s national reconciliation committee.
Meanwhile, paramilitary members in Ghazaliya spoke for the first time about Ali’s arrest. His assistant, Atheer Mustafa, said a convoy of 13 Humvees arrived at his house Tuesday at 1 a.m.
Ali, a colonel in the old Iraqi army and a former insurgent, emerged in 2007 when the Shiite Mahdi Army militia and Al Qaeda in Iraq were fighting over Ghazaliya. Ali helped the Americans end the Mahdi Army’s expansion into Sunni parts of Ghazaliya and to fight Sunni militants.
Ali had openly worried that the government would try to arrest him someday, but believed the Americans were protecting him. On Sunday, the U.S. military called Ali’s arrest an internal Iraqi affair.
“This was a purely Iraqi security forces action as a result of a warrant for the arrest. Iraq is a sovereign nation with an elected government and capable criminal justice system designed to protect Iraqi citizens through the rule of law,” said Maj. Kone Faulkner, adding that the U.S. Army continued to support Ali’s men.
Still, the arrest had a chilling effect on Sons of Iraq fighters. Ali’s deputy warned that many were likely to abandon guard posts, and he said he would leave soon too. “I am just waiting to be executed,” Mustafa said. “I feel that I am targeted by both the Iraqi forces and the terrorists.”
A campaign of arrests in Diyala province’s capital, Baqubah, has demoralized the Sons of Iraq movement. In November, one of the group’s fighters died in police custody. Relatives said his body showed evidence of drill holes. Police said he died of kidney failure.
The head of the Sunni paramilitary movement in Baqubah, Abu Taleb, resigned from his post last month after he spent several days in police custody. He was released after a court dismissed murder charges against him.
He is now planning to enter politics. “There is no going back to the violence,” he vowed.
Times staff writers Usama Redha and Raheem Salman contributed to this report.