Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*
BAQUBA, Jan 21 (IPS) - New military operations in Diyala province north of Baghdad have exacerbated a growing conflict between U.S.-backed Sunni fighters on the one hand and Iraqi army and police forces on the other.
The U.S. military commenced a large military operation Jan. 8 in the volatile Diyala province. Seven U.S. battalions led an offensive to push out fighters affiliated with 'Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia' from the area.
In the current operation, U.S., Iraqi, and local fighters have faced no serious resistance. U.S. military commanders admitted shortly after operations began that anti-occupation fighters were likely tipped off, and fled the area. But the operation has thrown up conflicts within the ranks.
"The military forces comprise the coalition forces, Iraqi police and army, and the popular forces (commonly called Kataib)," political analyst Akram Sabri told IPS in Baquba, capital of Diyala province. "It was found that the local forces are more truculent fighters who can always be relied on. This has made the coalition forces increasingly reliant upon these fighters to the extent that they will one day likely be joined to Iraqi police and army."
The Kataib Sabri speaks of are what the U.S. military calls "concerned local citizens". Most are former resistance fighters, now being paid 300 dollars a month to stop attacking occupation forces and to back them instead.
The groups, which the U.S. military claims are 82 percent Sunni, are viewed as a threat by the government in Baghdad led by U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The PM has said these groups will never become part of the government security forces. But while seen with suspicion at many places, these forces are also being welcomed in some.