Sons of Iraq

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Sunni Awakening
Participant in the Iraq War
Active 2005 – present
Groups Albu Risha
Albu Isa
Albu Dhiyab
Albu Ali
Albu Fraj
Leaders Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi (assassinated) Skull and crossbones.svg
Sheikh Ali Hatem Ali Sulaiman
Sheikh Abdul-Jabbar Abu Risha
Sheikhs of Al-Bu Nimr
Sheiks of Al-Bu Issa
Saad Ghaffoori (aka Abu Abed)
Adel al-Mashhadani (executed in January 2014) Skull and crossbones.svg[1]
Area of
Strength 51,900 (estimated in January 2011)[2]
30,000 (June 6, 2012)[3]
Allies Multinational force in Iraq (ceasefire)
Iraqi Army and police
Opponents al-Qaeda in Iraq
and wars

Iraq War

The National Council for the Salvation of Iraq (Arabic: المجلس الوطني لإنقاذ العراقal-Majlis al-Waṭanī li-Inqādh al-ʻIrāq), also known as the Sunni Salvation movement (Arabic: حركة الإنقاذ السنيḤarakat al-Inqādh al-Sunnī) Anbar's Salvation (Arabic: إنقاذ الأنبارInqādh al-Anbār), National Council for the Awakening of Iraq (Arabic: المجلس الوطني لصحوة العراقal-Majlis al-Waṭanī li-Ṣaḥwat al-ʻIrāq), the Sunni Awakening movement (Arabic: حركة الصحوة السنيةḤarakat al-Ṣaḥwah al-Sunnīyah) Anbar's Awakening (Arabic: صحوة الأنبارṢaḥwat al-Anbār), or the Sons of Iraq (Arabic: أبناء العراقAbnāʼ al-ʻIrāq) program, are coalitions between tribal Sheikhs in a particular province in Iraq that unite to maintain security in their communities. These were initially sponsored by the US military.

Due to Shiʻite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's refusal to fully integrate the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi Security Services, "by 2013, the Sons of Iraq were virtually nonexistent". Sunnis formerly serving with the group either became unemployed or joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.[4]


Sons of Iraq militiaman at checkpoint.

The movement started among Sunni tribes in Anbar Province in 2005 to become an ad hoc armed force across the country in less than a year.[5]

The awakening fighters in Iraq have been credited by many independent analysts with reducing levels of violence in the areas in which they operate;[6] however, the rapid growth of the groups, whose salaries were initially paid for completely by the US military, has also led to concerns about allegations of some members' past activities fighting against coalition forces and concerns of infiltration by al-Qaeda.[5] Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has warned that the US-armed 'concerned local citizens' are an armed Sunni opposition in the making, and has argued that such groups should be under the command of the Iraqi Army or police.[7]

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has said that it plans to disband the Sunni Awakening groups so they do not become a separate military force.[8] The Iraqi government plans to absorb approximately a quarter of the Awakening groups into security service or the military, but analysts fear what will happen to the remaining three-quarters. The US is urging the Iraqi government to rapidly integrate the Sunni fighters into the national Shia-led security forces. Some experts warn there are similarities between the awakening councils and armed groups in past conflicts that were used for short-term military gains but ended up being roadblocks for state building.[9] In 2009, some awakening groups threatened to set the streets ablaze and "start a tribal war" after not doing well in elections.[10]

Other names[edit]

Awakening movements in Iraq are also referred to as:

  • "Mercenaries" (Maliki aide,[11] al-Qa'eda[12])
  • U.S. military/Government of Iraq:
    • "Concerned Local Citizens" – CLC[13]
    • "Sons of Iraq" - SOIZ[14]
    • "Very Worried Iraqis"[15]
    • "Critical Infrastructure Security" – CIS
    • "Abna Al-Iraq" – AAI
  • "Sahwa" militia[16]
  • "Former Sunni insurgents" – CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon[17]


In 2005, the Albu Mahals, a tribe that smuggled foreign fighters and materiel across the Syrian - Iraq border, was being forced out of their territory by the Al Salmani tribe allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The tribe proposed an alliance with the local USMC Battalion under the command of LtCol Dale Alford in November 2005, after being forcibly displaced from their traditional base in Al Qaim, and began receiving weapons and training.[5][18] In September 2006, the leader of the movement, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, formed the Anbar Awakening Council also called "Anbar Awakening" to counter the influence of foreign fighters - Al-Qaeda in Iraq.[18]

Despite warnings from some portions of United States intelligence community, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi was assassinated along with two bodyguards, by a roadside bomb planted near his home in Ramadi, in September 2007.[19] His brother, Ahmed Abu Risha, took over as leader, but so far has been unable to unite the various awakening militias.[5]

In October 2008, the Iraqi government took over from the American military the responsibility for paying 54,000 members of the Awakening councils.[6] Many of the Awakening fighters put little trust in the Iraqi government to help employ them.[20] "I consider the transfer an act of betrayal by the U.S. Army," said one Awakening member in response to the transfer.[21]

Work in Iraq[edit]

The groups were paid by the American military and the Iraqi government to lay down their arms against coalition forces, patrol neighborhoods, and to fight against other Sunni insurgents.[5] The US military says the groups helped it target Al-Qaeda in Iraq more precisely and avoid collateral damage.[22] The Washington Post writes the awakening groups caused al-Qaeda in Iraq to soften its tactics in an effort to regain public support.[22]

Al-Qaeda in Iraq condemned the groups for fighting insurgents and for standing by the “filthy crusaders”.[23] Some members of the awakening groups were reportedly former insurgents, and some awakening members have been killed by former awakening members in suicide bombings.[23] Sheiks who worked with the awakening movement also frequently faced killings which originated from outside the movement.[24]

The Government Accountability Office, the audit arm of the United States Congress, warned that the groups had still "not reconciled with the Iraqi government" and that the potential remained for further infiltration by insurgents.[25] That report received wide criticism for its lack of factual data and its reliance upon "Green Zone" analysis.[citation needed]


The Shia-dominated Iraqi Defense Ministry has said that it plans to disband the Awakening groups so they do not become a separate military force. "We completely, absolutely reject the Awakening becoming a third military organization," Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi said. Al-Obaidi said the groups also would not be allowed to have any infrastructure, such as a headquarters building, that would give them long-term legitimacy.[8]

The Iraqi government has pledged to absorb about a quarter of the men into the Shiite dominated military and security services, and to provide vocational training to the rest of the members of the Awakening groups. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has agreed to hire about 7,000 men on temporary contracts and plans to hire an additional 3,000; however, the ministry hasn't specified the contract length or specific positions for the men to fill.[8] Deborah D. Avant, director of international studies at the University of California-Irvine, said there are ominous similarities between the awakening councils and armed groups in past conflicts that were used for short-term military gains but ended up being roadblocks for state building.[9]

According to Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert at The Jamestown Foundation, "the rise of the Awakening councils may risk reigniting the Jaysh al-Mahdi". On February 22, 2008, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he will extend his ceasefire on his Jaysh al-Mahdi militia.[26] But according to Mardini, the uncertainty facing the Sunni tribal Awakening movement's status may cut that ceasefire short. Mardini suggests that if the movement's demands are not satisfied by Iraq's Shia-dominated central government, the U.S. 'surge' strategy is at risk for failing, "even to the point of reverting back to pre-surge status". Subsequent results of the US-UK 2007 "Iraqi Surge" seem to have disproved Mardini's speculation. Those Awakening Council demands include that Awakening fighters be incorporated into Iraq's security forces, having permanent positions and payrolls.[26]

In August 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki offered 3,000 of the 100,000 Sons of Iraq members jobs in Diyala Province in hopes that it would lead to information about militants in the area. Other members of the paramilitary were used in the Diyala Campaign.[27]

In March 2009, the leader of the Sunni tribal-based Awakening Movement in Fadhil, Baghdad, was arrested on allegations of murder, extortion and "violating the Constitution". Adel al-Mashhadani was accused of being the Fadhil leader of the banned Baath Party's military wing. His arrest sparked a two day gunbattle between Awakening members and Shia-dominated government security forces.[28] In November 2009 he was convicted and sentenced to death for murder and kidnapping.[29]

By June 6, 2012, about 70,000 members of the group had been integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces or given civilian jobs, with 30,000 continuing to maintain checkpoints and being paid a salary by the government of around $300 per month.[3] On January 29, 2013, Iraqi Shia-appointed officials said they would raise the salaries of Awakening Council fighters, the latest bid to appease Sunni anti-government rallies that erupted in December, 2012.[30] Some 41,000 Awakening Council fighters are to receive 500,000 Iraqi dinars ($415) a month, up from 300,000 dinars ($250).[30]

On 21 January 2013, the Iraqi Shia-dominated government, announced the execution of 26 men convicted of "terrorism", including Adel Mashhadani, who was arrested in March 2009 and sentenced to death in November of that year for killing a young girl in a revenge attack.[1]

Governorate elections in 2009[edit]

Several political parties formed out of the Awakening movements contested the Iraqi governorate elections, 2009. The Iraq Awakening and Independents National Alliance list won the largest number of seats in Anbar governorate.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Iraq executes 26 men, including anti-Qaeda leader
  2. ^ Hosted news, Google, Associated Press .
  3. ^ a b Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights p.18
  4. ^ Harvey, Derek; Michael Pregent (2014-06-15). "Opinion: Who's to blame for Iraq crisis". CNN. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Rubin, Alissa J.; Damien Cave (2007-12-23). "In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  6. ^ a b Iraq government to pay Sunni groups – Al Jazeera
  7. ^ US buys 'concerned citizens' in Iraq, but at what price?
  8. ^ a b c Iraq pledges to disband Sunni volunteer militias
  9. ^ a b Sunni fighters need political role
  10. ^ International Herald Tribune: Iraq Sunni group accuses tribes of poll incitement
  11. ^ Program in Iraq against al-Qaida faces uncertainty, AP [dead link]
  12. ^ Iraqi neighbours rise up against al-Qa'eda, The telegraph (UK) .
  13. ^ Concerned Local Citizens Vastly Improve Security in Iraq’s Diyala Province, DefenseLink .
  14. ^ The 'Sons of Iraq' Keep the Peace, US News and World Report, 2008-02-05 .
  15. ^ Shiite Power Struggle Is Iraq's 'Last Battle', NPR .
  16. ^ Sandstorms and suicide bombers, France 24, 2008-07-01 .
  17. ^ The Role of the ‘Sons of Iraq’ in Improving Security, CFR .
  18. ^ a b "Iraq's Sunni sheiks join Americans to fight insurgency". SignOnSanDiego. 2007-03-25. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  19. ^ "Iraqi insurgents kill key US ally". BBC News. 2007-09-13. 
  20. ^ ABCNews: Iraq's Sunni's Fear Life Without U.S. Oversight
  21. ^ AP: "Iraq: government takes command of Sons of Iraq"
  22. ^ a b Shift in Tactics Aims to Revive Struggling Insurgency
  23. ^ a b Group Claims Responsibility for Iraq Attack
  24. ^ Iraq explosion kills U.S. soldiers, Sunni allies in Anbar province
  25. ^ US Government Accountability Office (June 2008): Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq
  26. ^ a b Uncertainty Facing Iraq’s Awakening Movement Puts U.S. Strategy at Risk
  27. ^ Sons of Iraq join Diyala offensive
  28. ^ Awakening group in Baghdad battle, Al Jazeera, 2009-03-29
  29. ^ JOHN LELAND (2009-11-09). "Iraq Sentences Sunni Leader to Death". NYTimes. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  30. ^ a b

External links[edit]