Awakening groups / Sahwa (Iraq)

Country: Iraq
Details of Formation: Sunni tribal chiefs organized their youths in Sahwa militias, supported financially by the US (International Crisis Group 2016). Since 2003, several Sunni Arab tribes had been in conflict with al-Qaeda. In late 2005 they began cooperating with the US. This cooperation was formalized in September 2006. In early November 2008 the Sahwa were turned over to the Iraqi authorities (Benraad 2011), becoming pro-government according to the PGMD definition. A news source from 2009 reports that the turnover of responsibilities was completed.
Details of Termination: After the US troop withdrawal in late 2011, the group was not mentioned until 2014. It is likely that it ceased to be a PGM during 2012-2013, as the Iraqi government seems to have supported the outfit primarily because of US pressure. The government had tried repeatedly to discourage membership in the Sahwa, and many turned their back to the government (Benraad 2011). Many former Sahwa fighters had then allied with the IS (Ahram 2015). In 2014, Sahwa leader Abu Richa, who had previously defected, realigned with the government in order to fight the Islamic State. The new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi supported the Sahwa.
Purpose: The main purpose of the group is to provide security and reduce overall violence levels, which implied fighting al Qaeda and later IS. From 2007 to 2008, they were considered very successful in reducing violence (Benraad 2011). They were also considered being a counterbalance to the Shi’i-dominated forces of the Interior ministry and its allies. The government and the Coalition forces allied with the tribes because it was cheaper and more effective to buy them than to fight them (Ahram 2015).
Organisation: Upon foundation, the Sahwa were linked to the US military who financed Sunni tribal chiefs, who in turn organized their youths into militias (ICG 2016). Sahwa Tribes were allowed to implement tribal law dominion and act as mediator between the people and the state (Ahram 2015). In early November 2008, the Sahwa were transferred to Iraqi authority. Prime Minister al-Maliki promised to integrate some of the Sahwa forces into a state apparatus, but he did not fully comply with this promise. The tribes participating in the Awakening had never been unified and local outfits had been very diverse (Benraad 2011). The tribes were not allowed to conduct offensive movements and were subordinated to Iraqi and Coalition forces (Ahmed 2008). One news source from early 2012 mentions that the group was linked to the Defense Ministry. Its leader is Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. As of 2014, the new prime minister Haider al-Abadi was planning to rebuild the Sahwa into a national guard, but the law had not yet been passed by parliament until end of 2014.
Weapons and Training: The Sahwa tribes received arms and training from the US forces (Benraad 2007). They also received arms and ammunition form the Iraqi government in 2014. Minister of Defense Sa’adon ad-Dulaymi, who himself is a leader of one of Iraq’s largest tribes, funneled weapons to tribal Sahwa (Ahram 2015).
Size: After one year, the number of Sahwa increased to 80,000 members. Since 2009, thousands defected and rejoined al-Qaeda, fearing the jihadists’ intimidations and threats. As of 2010, there were 94,000 Sahwa members (Benraad 2011). News sources give different numbers: In 2007 there were 72,000 members and only 49,000 in 2009. Another account says in 2008 there were 80,000 members (Ahmed 2008). By 2012, numbers had decreased to 30,000. Two news sources say that at its peak, around 2006, there were up to 100,000 fighters.
Reason for Membership: Tribes initially allied with the US forces, because they saw an opportunity to obtain arms, training and alternative funding, which they could use to expel al-Qaeda, which had captured the Anbar tribes’ key resources. They were driven by economic motives, if not opportunism, of its members and not because of any tribal patriotism against al-Qaeda (Benraad 2011). A news source mentions that after a tribal leader was killed in summer 2006, 15 Ramadi sheiks formed a Sahwa for survival, demanding protection against al-Qaeda in return for providing policing. Members were promised a salary, which was paid only irregularly (Benraad 2011). Another news source reports that members were paid $300 a month, which was much less than the salary of soldiers or police.
Treatment of Civilians: --
Other Information: The group is coded interrupted. It was a PGM between November 2008 and December 2011, and again from 2014 onwards. The PGM is also referred to as “Awakening Councils” and known as “Sons of Iraq” or "Concerned Local Citizens" (Benraad 2011).
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