Iraqi government starts paying Sunni fighters

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's Shiite-dominated government is making good on promises to pay thousands of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters in Baghdad, the U.S. military said Sunday, despite some government unease over the alliance.

Some 100,000 former Sunni insurgents, known as Sons of Iraq or awakening councils, revolted against al-Qaida in Iraq and joined forces with the United States two years ago.

The U.S. military managed and paid the volunteers to help provide security in neighborhoods, towns and villages, but handed over control of the groups to the Iraqi government last month.

The Shiite-led government has long been suspicious of the awakening councils, believing they could turn their guns on the Shiites some day.

Nevertheless, U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Zamzow said, the Iraqi government has paid some 35,000 of the more than 51,000 Sons of Iraq in the Baghdad area on schedule, and that the remaining fighters are to be paid in coming days.

Zamzow praised the fighters for their revolt against al-Qaida and their role in recent security gains in Iraq.

He said the partnership between the awakening councils and the Iraqi government is "fundamental to maintaining the remarkable security gains we have seen now and will see in the future."

The government in Baghdad must now follow through on promises to absorb 20 percent of the Sunnis into the Iraqi security forces and find other state or private sector jobs for the rest.

U.S. officials are watching to see whether the Shiite-dominated government lives up to that pledge, fearing that the fighters will turn against the government if they feel cheated.

For now, Mohammed al-Jubouri, the leader of Sunni fighters in the Dora neighborhood in south Baghdad, says the government is living up to its responsibilities.

"The Iraqi government fulfilled its pledges so far to pay us salaries," he said.

But Sheik Qais Dhiyab Ahmed, head of an awakening council in Balad north of Baghdad says some suspicion remains.

"We are happy to work with the Iraqi government, but some parties within it work against us and don't want to achieve security and stability in Iraq," he said.


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