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U.S.-affiliated Awakening Council members joining Qaeda ranks in Iraq.

Members of Iraq's Awakening Council, a group affiliated with the US military are reportedly switching their loyalty and have joined the ranks of al Qaeda, the pan-Arab ASHARQ AL AWSAT reported Monday, quoting the New York Times. The paper based its report on unnamed Iraqi government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents. The paper said, although there were no firm figures, hundreds of fighters appear to have rejoined al Qaeda in recent months, taking with them their recently gained extensive knowledge of the US military. Officials also said that possibly thousands of Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll covertly aid the insurgency, the report said.

The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from al Qaeda, said the Times according to Agence France Presse. The defections have accelerated since Iraq's inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have in the country. The switch in loyalties by Awakening members poses a new threat to Iraq's social and political balance as the US military prepares to withdraw next year, The Times noted.

Lt. Gen. Tariq al-Assawi, commander of security in Diyala province, said Awakening members are increasingly less reliable. "They are not warning us about car bombs that go off in places they are responsible for securing," he said. "A lot of them are definitely helping the insurgents." In July, U.S. officials estimated there were 94,000 Sunnis in Awakening groups.

The United States established regional Awakening Councils for Sunnis to participate in and rebuild their communities for a salary. However, Nathum al-Jubouri, who recently quit as an Awakening Council leader in Salahuddin Province, told the Times there was a deadly incentive to leave the groups. "At this point, Awakening members have two options: Stay with the government, which would be a threat to their lives, or help al-Qaeda by being a double agent," he said, UPI reported.
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Title Annotation:IRAQ-QAEDA
Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 18, 2010
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