America's Sunni allies go on strike in Iraq's Diyala province

By Steve Lannen, McClatchy Newspapers, Feb. 8, 2008

BAGHDAD — Members of U.S.-allied citizen brigades, which are credited with helping to tamp down violence in many parts of Iraq, went on strike Friday in Diyala province, alleging that the provincial police chief there is running a death squad.

A leader of the group said that brigade members, most of them Sunni Muslims, wouldn't resume working with U.S. and Iraqi government forces until the Shiite police chief resigns or is indicted.

A curfew was imposed, and police throughout the province ended their patrols early to avoid clashes with the U.S.-funded concerned local citizens, or "popular committees" as they're known in Diyala, who staged demonstrations against the police chief. No casualties were reported.

The strike highlights the tenuous relationship between U.S.-allied Sunni-dominated citizen militias and the Shiite-dominated, U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces.

Abu Mina, one of the leaders of the citizens groups in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, said his group demanded the resignation of Gen. Ghanim al Quraishi three days ago and had given authorities evidence that Quraishi was involved in death-squad activities. Mina also accused seven police officers of kidnapping, raping and killing two women in a village north of Diyala earlier this week.

The police chief couldn't be reached for comment. A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad acknowledged the strike, but had no further comment.

The citizens groups also are demanding that the heavily Shiite police force be remade into one that reflects the composition of the mixed Sunni-Shiite province, that detained people not convicted of crimes be released and that Sunnis who return to Shiite-dominated areas from which they've been displaced be protected.

The commander of security operations in Diyala said he's trying to arrange a meeting among the police, popular committee leaders, provincial officials and U.S. forces to mediate.

Gen. Abdulkareem al Rubaiye called the situation "strained" and said the curfew would remain in effect until further notice.

"If the popular committees were to withdraw their support, it will certainly be a big setback in the security situation in Diyala," he said.

Meanwhile, the court-martial got under way in Baghdad for a U.S. Army sniper who's accused of killing an Iraqi man and planting an AK-47 on him after he stumbled onto a sniper hideout. Sgt. Evan Vela is accused of murder and making false statements. Two other soldiers already have been convicted on charges of planting evidence, but they were acquitted of the murder charges.

(Lannen reports for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. McClatchy special correspondent Sahar Issa contributed.)

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