BAGHDAD – A potential security crisis loomed in troubled Diyala province Saturday as significant numbers of a U.S.-funded force of Sunni fighters left their posts, demanding the ouster of the provincial police chief.
“You can imagine what danger will face the region in the next days,” said Abu Talib, the commander of 2,000 to 3,000 so-called Sons of Iraq. His fighters, many of them former insurgents, turned against al-Qaida in Iraq last year under the Sunni Awakening banner.
A street commander, Khalid Khalidi, said nearly half of the checkpoint guards and patrolmen have walked off the job, and Talib said they might pull out in even larger numbers if provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Ghanim Quraishi is not ousted. Talib and his men, who are paid by the U.S. military, accuse the Shiite police chief of brutality against Sunnis.
Their ire boiled over, they said, after the rape, kidnapping and murder of two Sunni women two weeks ago, allegedly by men wearing police uniforms. Aides to the police chief said he was unavailable for comment.
For much of the past year, Diyala has been the deadliest region for U.S. forces battling the militants who have found refuge there. The province is a strategic crossroads, providing access to Baghdad, Iran and insurgent strongholds in northern Iraq.
U.S. military officials, who have said they do not have the troop strength to improve security in the province without the Sons of Iraq, said they were hoping for a speedy resolution.