BAGHDAD – Up to 30 percent of the Sunni paramilitaries involved in last weekend's uprising in central Baghdad escaped with their weapons, an Iraqi police officer said Wednesday.
The rest of the estimated 250 members of the Awakening Council in the Fadhil area handed over their weapons to Iraqi soldiers and police after the uprising, which erupted when their leader was arrested Saturday on terrorism and other charges, the police officer said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he isn't supposed to give information to media.
Awakening Councils, which the U.S. military calls Sons of Iraq, are made up of Sunnis who turned against the insurgents and now help Iraqi security forces provide security in their neighborhoods. Since the uprising ended Sunday, all checkpoints in Fadhil are being manned by Iraqi soldiers and police, according to residents.
The U.S. military encouraged the rise of the Awakening movement, believing the paramilitaries played a major role in turning the tide in the fight against Sunni insurgents. But the Shiite-led government is suspicious of many Awakening groups, which include former insurgents in their ranks.
A number of Awakening Council leaders elsewhere fear the crackdown in Fadhil is part of a government move to sideline them.
The police spokesman in Babil province south of Baghdad, Maj. Muthanna Khalid, said 12 Awakening members had been slain in the province since the beginning of the year, mostly due to tribal disputes. He didn't elaborate.
Mustafa Kamil al-Jubouri, head of the paramilitary group in the tense Dora area of south Baghdad, said his fighters will continue working with the government but called for an independent commission to supervise investigations and arrests of Awakening members.
"We had asked the central government from the beginning to verify documents of Awakening members to clear the organization of infiltrators and bad elements who try to defame the reputation of those who played a positive role and accomplished victories against al Qaida." al Jubouri said. "But we reject the way the case in Fadhil was handled."
Government officials insist they support the Awakening movement but will not tolerate criminals in the ranks.
Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said he believed the government was committed to supporting the paramilitaries but added there were bound to be some problems in such a large force.
The U.S. military began transferring control of the more than 90,000 Awakening Council members to the Iraqi government last October. The government promised to bring 20 percent of them into the police or army and pay the rest until they could be found civilian jobs.
But salaries for many Awakenings have been delayed for months. The U.S. insists the delay was caused by bureaucratic red tape and will be resolved soon.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. military announced that a U.S. soldier assigned to Multinational Division-North died the day before in a "noncombat-related incident" in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad. No further details were released.
In Mosul, where Sunni insurgents remain active, police said 10 people were wounded Wednesday when a car bomb exploded in a commercial area in the center of the northern city.
Eight people were wounded when a bomb went off Wednesday in the Shorja area of Kirkuk, police chief Brig. Gen. Burhan Tayeb said. Kirkuk is a northern oil city where Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds are competing for power.