crucial Iraqi ally of the United States in its recent successes in the country
is threatening to withdraw his support and allow al-Qa'ida to return
if his fighters are not incorporated into the Iraqi army and police.
"If there is no change in three months there will be war again," said
Abu Marouf, the commander of 13,000 fighters who formerly fought the
Americans. He and his men switched sides last year to battle al-Qa'ida
and defeated it in its main stronghold in and around Fallujah.
"If the Americans think they can use us to crush al-Qa'ida and then
push us to one side, they are mistaken," Abu Marouf told The Independent
in an interview in a scantily furnished villa beside an abandoned cemetery
near the village of Khandari outside Fallujah. He said that all he and
his tribal following had to do was stand aside and al-Qa'ida's fighters
would automatically come back. If they did so he might have to ally
himself to a resurgent al-Qa'ida in order to "protect myself and my
Abu Marouf said he was confident that his forces controlled a swath
of territory stretching east from Fallujah into Baghdad and includes
what Americans called "the triangle of death" south-west of the capital.
Even so his bodyguards, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, nervously watched
the abandoned canals and reed beds around his temporary headquarters.
Others craned over light machine guns in newly built watch towers. Several
anti-Qa'ida tribal leaders have been killed by suicide bombers in recent
His threat is highly dangerous for the US and Iraqi government, neither
of which made any headway in ending the Sunni insurgency against the
US occupation for four years until the tribes of Anbar, the province
in which Fallujah lies, turned against al-Qa'ida. They formed the Awakening
movement, known in Arabic as al-Sahwah, of which Abu Marouf, whose full
name is Karim Ismail Hassan al-Zubai, is a leading member.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, warned last week it would
be "very dangerous" if the Awakening movement's 80,000 fighters were
not absorbed into the army and police. "They are not that well organised
and could easily be manipulated by al-Qa'ida," he said.
The Iraqi government fears ceding power to the Awakening movement
which it sees as an American-funded Sunni militia, whose leaders are
often former military or security officers from Saddam Hussein's regime
and are unlikely to show long-term loyalty to the Shia and Kurdish-dominated
Abu Marouf – a thin man aged about 40, with a short beard and wearing
a brown suit and lilac tie – says he was "security officer" before the
US invasion of 2003. Afterwards he became a resistance fighter and,
though he will not say which guerrilla group he belonged to, local sources
say he was a commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades. He is also a
member of the powerful Zubai tribe that was at the heart of anti-American
resistance in an area which saw the fiercest fighting during the Sunni
rebellion against the occupation.
He has a precise memory for dates and figures. He says that he started
secretly working against al-Qa'ida at a meeting as long ago as 14 April
2005. He and his men gathered intelligence. Eight months later they
started making attacks on al-Qa'ida, which was trying to monopolise
power in Sunni areas.
"They cut off people's heads and put them on sticks, as if they were
sheep. They cut off my brother's head with a razor. Thirteen of my relatives
and 450 members of my tribe were killed by them," he said.
Part of Abu Marouf's force is paid for by the Americans. Ordinary
fighters are believed to receive $350 (£175) a month and officers $1,200,
but some receive no salary. He makes clear that he wants long-term jobs
for himself and his followers and that "they must be long-term jobs".
There is more than just money involved here. The Sunni tribal leaders
want a share of power in Baghdad which they lost when Saddam Hussein
The US calls the Awakening movement groups "Concerned Citizens",
as if they were pacific householders heroically restoring law and order.
In fact, the US has handed over Sunni areas to the guerrilla groups
such as the 1920 Brigades and the Islamic Army who have been blowing
up American solders since 2003.
This creates a serious problem for the Iraqi government and for the
Americans themselves. Though Abu Marouf wants to join the government
security forces, he volunteers that he considers the present Iraqi government
of Nouri al-Maliki "the worst government in the world – his army has
got 13 divisions, most of which are recruited from Shia militias controlled
It is clear that Abu Marouf sees the Shia religious party takeover
of government as something to be resisted.
The city of Fallujah – many of its buildings still in ruins since
the US Marines stormed it in November 2004 – is peaceful compared with
six months ago. Al-Qa'ida fighters, who once dominated it, have either
gone or are keeping a low profile. The Americans have a large military
camp on its outskirts. But the defeat of al-Qa'ida is not exactly a
victory for the Iraqi government.
In the centre of the city is a much-attacked police station run by
Colonel Feisal Ismail Hassan al-Zubai, an authoritative looking man,
who is the elder brother of Abu Marouf. A career officer in Saddam Hussein's
Special Forces since 1983, who fought in 11 battles against Iran, he
was appointed police chief in December 2006. When I asked what he did
previously he said: "I was fighting against the Americans." Asked why
had he changed sides he replied: "When I compared the Americans to al-Qa'ida
and the [Shia] militia, I chose the Americans."
Beside Colonel Feisal is a gold framed picture of himself as a young
officer. "That was when I was a lieutenant in the real Iraqi army,"
he says. Behind him is the old Iraqi flag which the government is trying
He says: "The worst day of my life was when Saddam Hussein fell in
2003." He chokes himself off from giving an account of the first battle
of Fallujah against the Americans in April 2004 in which he appears
to have played a role. "The Americans now give me everything I want,"
There is no doubt that Abu Marouf and Colonel Feisal are far better
people than the savage sectarian bigots of al-Qa'ida whom they have
But, far from America having won a victory in Iraq, violence has
fallen largely because the United States has handed power to the guerrillas
who fought it for so long.
If the Iraqi government pretends it has conquered its enemies and
refuses to give men like Abu Marouf a share in power then Iraq will
soon being facing another war.