Kareem Zair
April 2, 2009

Government troops have escalated their campaign to crack down on U.S.-backed Sunni militias, euphemistically known as Majalis al-Sahwa or Awakening councils.

The troops, commanded by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have concentrated their activities in the low-income Fadhil District, a Sunni stronghold in Baghdad.

[efoods]Scores of the Sunni militiamen are reported to have been seized in the past 24 hours. The arrests come three days after the seizure of a senior Sunni militia leader, Adel al-Mashhadani.

The crackdown is certain to strain relations between the militias and the government.

Sunni militias were armed and paid by U.S. occupation troops. Their contribution to U.S. war effort is believed to have been behind the substantial drop in violence in Iraq.

But the Shiite and Kurdish-led government views the militias as a thread and the attack on Fadhil District is seen by many as a harbinger of more violence.

U.S. troops have passed control of the militias, numbering more than 100,000, to the government which analysts say is keen to have them dismantled.

In the three months since the U.S. handed the militias’ command to Maliki, many of them have gone without pay.

The analysts said Maliki and his government were not ready to accept the presence of Sunni armed men in the capital Baghdad and its environs.

Sunni militia leaders in Baghdad fear that the attack on Fadhil District and the seizure of Mashhadani, one of al-Qaeda’s sworn enemies, was part of “a plan of liquidation” against them.

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