SUNNI AWAKENING UPDATE….I’ve mentioned a few times before that our “bottoms up” strategy of supporting Sunni tribes in the provinces surrounding Baghdad carries a number of risks. The biggest risk, I suppose, is that once the tribes finally feel safe from the threat of al-Qaeda in Iraq, they’ll relaunch their insurgency and start shooting at American soldiers again. The second biggest risk is that the Shiite central government understands perfectly well that “competing armed interest groups” in the provinces are — well, competing armed interest groups.

That phrase comes from Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen (here), and a week ago I linked to a quote from a U.S. Army officer who was fairly candid about the effect that arming the tribes is likely to have on the balance of power in Iraq. “The grass-roots level will force change at the top,” he suggested, “because if they do not act on it, they will get overrun.”

Quite so. And does the Maliki government understand this threat? Via Cernig, AP reporter Diaa Hadid makes it clear that they do indeed:

Iraq’s Shiite-led government declared Saturday that after restive areas are calmed it will disband Sunni groups battling Islamic extremists because it does not want them to become a separate military force.

….The statement from Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi was the government’s most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the groups backed and funded by the United States as a vital tool for reducing violence.

“We completely, absolutely reject the [Sunni] Awakening becoming a third military organization,” al-Obaidi said at a news conference.

He added that the groups would also not be allowed to have any infrastructure, such as a headquarters building, that would give them long-term legitimacy. “We absolutely reject that,” al-Obaidi said.

The Maliki government has made similar noises in the past, but this is by far the most unequivocal they’ve ever been about it. And needless to say, the Sunni leaders are having none of it. There’s exactly zero chance that they will ever voluntarily disband their “Concerned Local Citizens” groups.

Who knows? Maybe this is posturing more than anything else. Maybe Petraeus and Crocker can work some magic that will defuse all this. But a year from now, if the Iraqi civil war is raging once again, this is where it will have started.

UPDATE: In the New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Damien Cave have a long overview piece on the current status of the Awakening. Money quote: “The Americans are haunted by the possibility that Iraq could go the way of Afghanistan, where Americans initially bought the loyalty of tribal leaders only to have some of them gravitate back to the Taliban when the money stopped.”

And then there’s this from the Iraqi side: “Many people believe this will end with tens of thousands of armed people, primarily Sunnis, and this will excite the Shiite militias to grow and in the end it will grow into a civil war,” said Safa Hussein, the deputy national security adviser and a point man on the Awakening program for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

“Many people” indeed. The whole story is worth a read.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!