Sunday, December 23, 2007

Newsvine - Sunni Fighters Need Political Role

Newsvine - Sunni Fighters Need Political Role

The rise of armed Sunni groups — who now battle al-Qaida in Iraq instead of fighting U.S. troops — is widely seen as a major reason for a drop in violence across the country.

But bringing these fighters into the fold of Iraq's security forces — and sparking a political reconciliation that will allow more Sunnis to participate in the governing process — is something the Shiite-dominated government is not adequately addressing, analysts say.

Iraqi officials report the number of fighters in the so-called "awakening" councils as about 70,000 and rapidly growing. They expect the number of Sunni fighters in Baghdad alone to grow to 45,000 next year — a fourfold increase from present figures.

By comparison, the Shiite dominated army and police make up the majority of the 440,000 Iraqi security forces.

Shiite government officials have in recent weeks cautiously praised the fighters for helping reduce violence. But laced into the comments were warnings that represent Shiites' biggest fear: that these groups will become an uncontrollable force and eventually use their guns to escalate a sectarian war that has largely divided Iraq into blocs along religious lines.

"The awakening movement was a response to al-Qaida in Iraq trying to prevent Sunnis from entering the political process," Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi, himself a Sunni Arab, said at a news conference on Saturday.

"The Sunnis' response was an uprising, represented by the awakening groups. Now that al-Qaida has largely been marginalized in certain areas, Sunnis are entering the political arena," al-Obeidi said. "We will see a definite change soon because there is nobody now standing between them and the rest of the Iraqi people."

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