80,000 angry men: Is the US surge collapsing?

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An investigation carried out by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 uncovers how thousands of Iraqis employed at $10 a day by the US to take on al-Qaeda are threatening to go on strike because they say they have been used by the ‘Americans to do their dirty work’ and haven’t been paid.

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Story Transcript

Courtesy: The Guardian

VOICE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: One year ago, much of Diyala province was a sanctuary for al-Qaeda. Today, the province is the site of a growing popular uprising against the extremists, and some local tribes are working alongside coalition and Iraqi forces to clear out the enemy.

VOICEOVER: These are the men George Bush means. But here in Diyala, they’re slowly turning against America.

CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): There is only one God. America is the enemy of God!

VOICEOVER: Here in the insurgency’s heartland, for the last year, these men have been doing the unthinkable: working with the Americans to rid their town of al-Qaeda extremists. Dozens of these local movements, called “awakening councils,” have been set up by the US military across Iraq. They pay each man ten dollars a day.

MAN’S VOICE (OFF CAMERA) (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): O’ God: make his grave one of the gardens of paradise—

VOICEOVER: Today, they’re burying one of their own.

MAN’S VOICE (OFF CAMERA) (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): —and not one of the pits of Hell.

VOICEOVER: Also mourning is Abu Amin. He’s the leader of the awakening council here in Diyala. These armed groups are vital to America’s surge strategy. But in this town, they’re now on the verge of withdrawing their support.

ABU AMIN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We are in a crisis; we are on strike.

VOICEOVER: A year ago, he and the Americans had common purpose. Abu Amin was a schoolteacher of classical Arabic, but then masked gunmen from the Islamic State of Iraq, what al-Qaeda wants to create here, paid him a visit. They declared geography, history, and maths to be un-Islamic, and that he must Islamic Arabic only.

AMIN (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I asked them, what if I do not comply? They told me, either leave your work or face death.

VOICEOVER: Unsurprisingly, he quit the school, but still chose to risk his life. He joined the awakening council to fight the men who threatened him. The people of Diyala have been terrorized by al-Qaeda for years. Al-Qaeda routinely filmed their crimes to spread fear, targeting the awakening councils’ families. This woman’s son works with Abu Amin. She first learned of her husband and 16 year old son’s beheadings from a DVD al-Qaeda delivered to her door.

MUNTAHA HASSAN ALI, WIFE AND MOTHER OF THE VICTIM (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): [inaudible] I swear to God; I cry for him every day. He was just a milkman, a very peaceful, poor, and simple boy.

VOICEOVER: Three months ago, Osama bin Laden gave his personal blessing to this campaign of murders, issuing a threat to all awakening council members.

VOICE OF OSAMA BIN LADEN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION) (DECEMBER 2007): Some tribes have joined the awakening councils. They have brought shame to themselves and their families.

VOICEOVER: Al-Qaeda’s savagery still haunts Diyala. Forty people from the same family were murdered here.

MAN 1 (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Al-Qaeda were innovators in terror. There was torture and beheadings. One room for the men, one for the women, and one for the children. We found over 40 people here, some buried up to their necks and left to die of thirst and starvation. Nobody found them, as this place is so remote.

VOICEOVER: Those 40 lie buried here. The man Abu Amin is burying, killed in error by the Americans, is one of 454 members of the awakening council killed in eleven months. They say they’ve never been paid by the Americans, and that discontent is growing.

MAN 2 (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Diyala has been liberated by our forces, but the media say it is the work of the government and the Americans. This is a lie! The government and Americans could not reach the al-Qaeda areas without us. I am ready to go on TV and face any official who claims they secured Diyala.

VOICEOVER: Their growing anger had led them to stage a strike. This banner is a sign of their resolve. It announces an end to cooperation with the Americans. These Sunni men say they’re excluded by the Shia government, who’ve barred them from jobs in the police and army. This vital alliance crumbling, the Americans, who refer to these groups as concerned local citizens, or CLCs, are now worried.

CAPTAIN ROBERT GABLE, US ARMY: If they quit, then it appears that the public is quitting with them, and then it’s all reliant on the government of Iraq to provide security. That is something that we hope does not happen. We hope the COCs continue to work, provide security for their area, their neighborhoods, so we can all work together on one front to maintain security in Diyala and Iraq.

VOICEOVER: We have spoken to 49 of the awakening councils set up across Iraq. In the majority of districts, they’ve not been paid as promised. Many have quit altogether—500 in Abu Ghraib and 800 in Tikrit. But most worryingly, Diyala has set an example. In Hillah, they’ve told us they intend coordinating a nationwide strike. They told us repeatedly they feel used by the Americans to take on al-Qaeda; and now they’ve done that job, they feel abandoned. Discontent has spread to the heart of the surge, Baghdad.

ABU ABDULLAH, AWAKENING COUNCIL LEADER, NORTHERN BAGHDAD (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): The American Army still owe me $28,000, which I spent on their behalf. The success of the surge is not all it’s cracked up to be. The media exaggerates its success for the sake of the US elections.

VOICE OF PRESIDENT BUSH: The goal of the surge is to provide that security.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, US SECRETARY OF STATE: The surge of troops has made an undeniable dent in—. [crosstalk] All of this, of course, is still fragile.

BUSH: —and that the troop surge is working.

VOICEOVER: Washington’s cure for the sectarian violence that swept Iraq was to arm and organize these local groups. Now this key part of the surge strategy could be unraveling. So as America focuses on how their troops will leave, these men, once a solution to Washington’s problems, are isolated, angry, and 80,000 strong.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.