Some US-backed Iraqi militias plotting attacks: VP
Some of the Iraqi former insurgents recruited by US forces to fight Al-Qaeda are simply biding their time and waiting for a chance to resume attacks, Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi warned Tuesday.
Abdel Mahdi's comments came amid tension between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government and the Sahwa, or "Awakening Movement" of militias and former insurgents who switched sides to fight alongside the Americans.
Much of the improvement in security in Iraq over the past two years has been attributed to the insurgents' decision to change sides, and any breakdown in their relations with Baghdad would be of serious concern for US commanders.
The recruits are now paid by the Iraqi government, and many thousands are being integrated into the Iraqi security forces, but clashes flared recently with government troops after a series of arrests of Sahwa leaders.
"It was a movement that allowed us to chase Al-Qaeda out of Anbar Province, so it was supported by the government and the Iraqi people. Without the Sahwa it would have been very hard to get rid of Al-Qaeda," Abdel Mahdi said.
"We agreed to integrate tens of thousands of Sahwa members in the armed forces, but certain groups took up the Sahwa banner, in Baghdad and elsewhere, even some terrorist groups," he told reporters during a visit to Paris.
"Sometimes we can't distinguish between the two -- the original Sahwa and the falsely created Sahwa. The pretend Sahwa is these groups who are waiting for the right moment to strike," he warned, speaking in French.
"That's why there have been arrests when we have discovered their links with other terrorist groups," he added, while insisting: "But the original Sahwa is a true movement that allowed us to restore order in the country."
Abdel Mahdi said the Sahwa groups established in Anbar Province in western Iraq and in some areas of Baghdad, such as that in the mainly Sunni downtown district of Adhamiyah, were legitimate and in touch with government.
US forces began paying local armed groups in 2006 as some Iraqi tribal and insurgent groups began to turn against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the local franchise of Osama bin Laden's international Islamic extremist movement.
Since then, responsibility for paying and finding work for the mainly-Sunni groups has moved to Maliki's Shiite-led government, but tensions remain.
Last month clashes erupted in Baghdad after security forces arrested a Sahwa leader accused of murder and Maliki has said some Sahwa units are infiltrated by Al-Qaeda or former dictator Saddam Hussein's banned Baath Party.
The Sahwas have in turn accused Baghdad of being late in delivering their paycheques and failing to give them jobs.
Despite these concerns, however, Iraq said Tuesday it would keep paying the salaries of the US-allied militias patrolling former insurgent strongholds and eventually give them all jobs in the public sector.
"The government is determined to pay the salaries of all the Sahwas at the appointed times," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
"It has been decided to transfer 80 percent of the Sahwas to civilian jobs in the ministries and Iraqi national institutions while transferring 20 percent to the security services," he added, without giving further details.
In Paris, Adel Abdel Mahdi's finance adviser Aziz Jaffar, told reporters Iraq had earmarked 350 million dollars this year to integrate around 100,000 Sahwa into the armed force and civil service.
Abdel Mahdi said that at first the Iraqi government had disagreed with the United States about the true number of Sahwa to go on the payroll, with Baghdad estimating them at 60,000 and the US military at more than 100,000.
A UN report released in February said Iraq was already employing too many people in its public sector, warning that the number of government workers had doubled since 2005, accounting for 43 percent of the workforce.
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