An Iraqi man inspects a damaged vehicle near where a suicide car bomb exploded north of Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday.AP photo
YOUSSIFIYAH, Iraq — A top U.S. commander warned Tuesday that Sunnis who fight al-Qaida in Iraq must be rewarded and recognized as legitimate members of Iraqi society — or else the hard-fought security gains of the past six months could be lost.
But the Shiite-dominated government is deeply concerned about the Sunni tribal groups, made up of men who in the past also fought against them — not just the Americans.
The warning from Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of U.S. forces south of Baghdad, came as two separate suicide attacks killed at least 35 people around Iraq and injured scores of others. One of the bombings targeted a funeral procession for two members of a Sunni tribal group who local police said were accidentally killed by U.S. forces in a dawn raid.
Lynch has credited these groups for much of the improvement in security in the region he commands, an area about the size of West Virginia and stretching to the Iranian and Saudi Arabian borders.
“The people say security is good now, but we need jobs. It’s all about jobs and we have to create them,” he told The Associated Press as he flew into patrol base Salie, just south of Baghdad — where U.S. troops fund about 150 members of the tribal groups. “We are in a tenuous situation. We need to give jobs to the citizens (groups) or they will go back to fighting.”
Lynch, who leads the 3rd Infantry Division, said he had 26,000 members of the groups in the area he controls and that they have given U.S. and Iraqi forces a key advantage in seeking to clear extremist-held pockets. They number about 70,000 countrywide, and are expected to grow by another 45,000 in coming months.
The groups, along with a surge of U.S. troops into Iraq and a decision by firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to stand down his Mahdi Army militia for six months, have contributed to a 60 percent drop in violence around Iraq since June.