BAGHDAD — Two suicide bombers killed 46 members of a U.S. backed anti-Qaida Sunni militia in Iraq, the highest such death toll in two months, an Iraqi Interior ministry official said.
Officials blamed al Qaida in Iraq, which has frequently targeted such militiamen, though no immediate claim of responsibility was made.
The militia, called the Awakening or Sahwa in Arabic, was formed in 2006 in al Anbar Province by tribal men and former members of al Qaida and other insurgent groups who decided to join with the U.S. military to fight al Qaida. The militia was credited for much of the security improvement in the country since 2006.
The first attack took place around 8:30 a.m. in al Radhwaniya in southwest Baghdad as the members of militia were gathered near an Iraqi army post to receive their monthly salaries from the Iraqi government. A suicide bomber detonated his vest bomb in the crowd, killing 43 and injuring 40 others, including Iraqi army soldiers.
The Iraqi government started to pay the militia members in 2009 after the U.S. military handed over the responsibility of the militia to the Iraqi government. Since then, the government re-named the militia the Sons of Iraq.
The second attack took place in the town of al Qaem near the Syrian border in al Anbar Province near of the militia's headquarters in the city, killing three members of the militia and injuring one militiaman and five civilians.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki issued a statement condemning the attacks and demanding that the Iraqi forces continue to pursue the killers.
"This desperate crime is another proof that these criminals do not discriminate between Iraqis . . . they are targeting all Iraqis" the statement added.
The attacks took place in a time of high political tensions that has followed the March 7 national elections. Iraqi politicians failed to form an Iraqi government and the Iraqi parliament met only once in a brief session.
The 92,000 militiamen are located in eight Iraqi provinces with more than half of the total in Baghdad.
For about a year, U.S. commanders have assured the Sons of Iraq that they'd get permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces and other government ministries.
Those jobs have not materialized.
A report issued in June by the national reconciliation committee formed by the Iraqi government said that about 30,000 militiamen were given civilian jobs and about 9,000 — half of what was supposed to be merged with Iraqi forces — are serving in Iraq's Ministry of Interior for a three-month test period.
Sheikh Sadoun al Efan, a leading member of Sahwa councils and a member of the provincial government in al Anbar accused the Iraqi government of neglecting the militiamen.
"These men fought against al Qaida and they deserve respect," Efan told Al Arabiya satellite TV channel.
He also said that some of the civilian jobs that were given to militia members were to work as cleaners. Efan said they deserve more.
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