More than 40 anti-al-Qa'ida militiamen were killed and dozens wounded by a suicide bomber yesterday as they collected their pay cheques at a base near Baghdad.
The bombing was one of a series of attacks during the day aimed at members of al-Sahwa, or the Awakening Councils, militiamen originally recruited by the United States to fight al-Qa'ida. The killings show how far Iraq is from peace as the last US combat brigades prepare to leave by the end of August.
The first attack took place as 150 militiamen were sitting near a checkpoint at Radwaniya, southwest of Baghdad. They had already turned up for five days running to get their pay and been told to come back the following day.
A bomber wearing an explosives-filled vest infiltrated the group and blew himself up, killing at least 45 people and wounding 40 more. Some of the dead and injured were Iraqi soldiers from a nearby base and accountants in charge of making payments to al-Sahwa members.
In a second attack, at al-Qaim on the Syrian border, a man with a sub-machine-gun walked into an al-Sahwa base and opened fire. The militiamen there shot and wounded him, but as they gathered round him he detonated an explosives-filled vest, killing three and wounding six others.
Al-Sahwa members complain that the government does nothing to protect them, but the government regards Awakening Councils, as former Sunni militants, with suspicion. They allied themselves with the Americans in 2007 because of an attempted takeover of Sunni areas by al-Qa'ida and sectarian cleansing of the Sunni by the largely Shia state security forces, and Shia death squads.
The Iraqi government, rather than the Americans, now pays al-Sahwa, although the former insurgents complain that they are paid late or are given menial jobs, rather than the security posts they wanted.