BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces raided the home of a provincial leader of U.S.-backed patrols on Tuesday, an incident that could raise tension at a time when the Baghdad government is taking over the programme from the U.S. military.
Mullah Shihab al-Safi, leader of the “Awakening” movement for the volatile Diyala province north of Baghdad, told Reuters troops had raided his house before dawn, arresting his brother and father, in Buhriz, south of the provincial capital Baquba.
Safi said by telephone he was not at home at the time and was now moving from place to place to avoid capture.
The Awakening groups are made up mostly of Sunni Arabs and include many former insurgents who battled U.S. forces and the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad but since have been recruited and paid by the U.S. military to run neighbourhood patrols.
The Iraqi government has been taking over the programme from the U.S. military, beginning this month in Baghdad and spreading to other provinces in coming months.
Officials say they will incorporate 20 percent of the patrol members into the army and police while finding civilian jobs or training for the rest.
But many Awakening leaders say they fear mass arrests from a government that remains hostile to them.
“They have been arresting the leaders for a while. The government are going back on their promises,” Safi said.
Safi said the government troops had also raided the home of the provincial spokesman for the Awakening groups, Laith Saleh, and beat him before arresting him.
Diyala province has been one of the most volatile parts of Iraq, with Sunni militants staging frequent suicide and car bomb attacks. The U.S. military says it is one of the areas where the militants have regrouped since being driven out of other areas.