FALLUJAH - The threat of violence hangs over Fallujah again as leaders of the Awakening Council fight for political power through the elections Jan. 31.
The Awakening Councils were set up and backed by the U.S. military to curb spiraling violence. According to the U.S. military, most of the members recruited were former resistance fighters. Over recent years, they grew to a strength of about 100,000 men, each paid 300 dollars a month.
U.S. aid to the Councils was cut off in October on the understanding that the members would be absorbed into Iraqi government forces. To date, less than a third have been given government jobs.
The Awakening Councils now control most of Anbar province. This is the largest province, covering about a third of Iraq. Political power here is critical because the province borders Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Anbar has a largely Sunni population of about two million, in an Iraqi population of about 25 million.
The province has seen some of the worst violence through the occupation. Two U.S. sieges in 2004 destroyed most of Fallujah. Violence continued to plague provincial capital Ramadi as well.
The Awakening Councils helped greatly to stabilize the security situation, but they could now become the problem as they take on political parties and also other Awakening Councils.
Many are holding out threats if they do not win. The president of the Fallujah Awakening Council, Sheikh Aifan Sadun, has like many other Awakening leaders, hundreds of security personnel under his control.
Sadun, contesting as a local representative in his city, is accusing rivals from the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) of preparing for fraud in the upcoming vote.
"The Islamic Party is placing their people as observers in the voting centers in Fallujah," Sadun told IPS. "They are also pressuring people who they think will be voting for Awakening members like me."
Sadun, speaking in his heavily armored BMW car as we drove in a convoy around Fallujah, told IPS he would use "any means necessary" to fight the IIP if they stole the elections.
The IIP have been in power here because most other Sunni political groups boycotted the 2005 elections.
At places rivalry has developed between competing leaders of Awakening Councils. In Ramadi, capital city of AnbAr, Sheikh Ahmad Abo Risha is president of the Awakening Council for the entire province.
Abo Risha's rival, Sheikh Hamid Al-Hayis, is also an Awakening Council leader in the city, and from the same tribe.
Abo Risha does not have kind words for Al-Hayis. "Al-Hayis has relations with government people and oil contracts, and he gets money from this by using his position which we helped him acquire," Abo Risha told IPS at the Awakening Council of Ramadi headquarters.
"I'm from a long line of sheikhs, but Al-Hayis has only been a sheikh since 2006 when we started the Awakening," Abo Risha said. If Al-Hayis were to win the elections, "there will be a revolution."
And, he told IPS, it will be a disaster if the IIP takes the election by fraud. "It will be like Darfur."
(Inter Press Service)