AWAKENINGATTACKKhalilAlMurshidi:AFP:Getty

Surprise!

Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined [Awakening] fighters many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency. 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....

During the past four months, the atmosphere has become particularly charged as the Awakening members find themselves squeezed between Iraqi security forces, who have arrested hundreds of current and former members accused of acts of recent terrorism, and Al Qaeda’s brutal recruitment techniques.

From my Sunday Times column two weeks ago (now paywalled):

If I were a Sunni who had risked his life to fight al Qaeda in Anbar at the behest of the Americans, I would be asking myself at this point: for what? For the triumphant victory of one of the more virulently anti-Sunni forces around - the Sadrites? ...

There is still a chance that Maliki will try to coax some Sunnis into government. But to form an easy majority, all he needs now are the Kurdish parties to form a government with no effective Sunni representation at all. If that were to happen, the chances of Sunni alienation - with the revival of al Qaeda in Anbar - are very high.

Which means that a resumption of the civil war is a perfectly plausible outcome, even though Iraq remains exhausted with sectarian warfare. The Shia could use oil revenues to finance an army to crush their ancient enemies for good. With Sunni-Shia tensions rising throughout the region over the prospect of Iran's nuclear capacity, the temptation for neighboring powers to intervene may also become overwhelming. Saudi Arabia and Jordan and not likely to be happy to see a nuclear Iran essentially coopt a pliant Shiite Iraq and become by far the largest influence in the Middle East. This war, in others words, may not be over. In fact, one may wonder if what we have seen so far is but an overture for the main - and much wider - event.

(Photo: An Injured Iraqi man is wheeled into a local hospital in the capital Baghdad on July 18, 2010, following a suicide bomber who targeted anti-Qaeda militiamen known as the Sahwa (Awakening) militia as they collected their wages in the predominantly Sunni Arab district of Radwaniyah, a former insurgent hotspot 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the Iraqi capital, defence and interior ministry officials said. By Khalil Al Murshidi/AFP/Getty.)

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