, the New York Times Newspaper said in news briefed by “Shafaq News”.
The United States, at the same time, is rushing shipments of small arms and ammunition to the Iraqi government and urging the Iraqis to pass the weapons on to the tribes.
As Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struggles to put down an insurgency led by militants affiliated with Al Qaeda, he has embraced the same strategy the Americans used in 2007, one that has been attempted with varying degrees of success by the authorities here for nearly a century: paying and arming tribal militias to fight as proxies.
The American version, known as the Sunni Awakening, coupled with an American troop increase, helped turn the tide of the Iraq war but ultimately, as recent events have laid bare, achieved no lasting reconciliation, the newspaper said.
Mr. Maliki has backed away from a military assault on Anbar after intense lobbying by American officials, Sunni leaders and moderates in his government.
He has made promises to the tribesmen of permanent jobs, pensions and death benefits for their families if they die on the battlefield. He has also hinted at amnesty for any tribal fighters with a history of armed resistance against the government.
Mr. Maliki began embracing the Sunni tribes last summer and increased his support after the militants seized the city of Falluja and parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, almost three weeks ago.
For now, his strategy is centered on containing the Anbar crisis, but optimists in his government hope it can be a step toward reconciliation between the Shiite-led government and the Sunni minority. Moreover, it is far from clear if it will succeed militarily.
Fighting continues to rage daily, and militants remain in control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. While the regular army has stayed outside the city, Iraqi special forces are deeply involved in the fight and are said to be taking heavy casualties. Tribal leaders and American officials say the government-supplied weapons are not nearly enough to beat back the militants, who are armed with sniper rifles and heavy, truck-mounted machine guns, the newspaper added.
As to Mr. Maliki’s promises, many Sunnis say they have come too late, and point out that the same promises were made when they fought with the Americans, only, they say, to be abandoned by the Iraqi government after the Americans left.
“From 2006 to 2008, tribesmen were able to beat Al Qaeda with the cooperation of American forces and the support of the Iraqi government,” said Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of Parliament and perhaps the most important Sunni politician in Iraq. “After gaining victory over Al Qaeda, those tribesmen were rewarded with the cutting of their salaries, with assassination and displacement.”
After their success, he said, the Sunni fighters “were left alone in the street facing revenge from Al Qaeda and neglect by the government.”
Sunnis in general have become increasingly bitter toward the government and what they regard as Mr. Maliki’s efforts to push them to the margins of society, with little role in national decisions. In particular, the government’s heavy-handed security strategy, which has often included mass arrests of Sunnis, and the arrest of Sunni leaders on sometimes false terrorism charges, became a rallying point for Sunni protests last year.
As a measure of the polarization between Sunni and Shiite leaders in Iraq, Mr. Nujaifi said he has not even spoken to the prime minister about the crisis in Anbar.
Indeed, many of the tribal leaders say they are happy to accept guns and money from the government to fight the militants, but contend that they are not on the side of the government. They also say they need more supplies from the government, such as winter clothing to fight during the cold desert nights, the newspaper said.
“The reason why we returned to carry our weapons and fight is because Qaeda returned to our cities,” said Ahmed Abu Risha, a tribal leader in Anbar who was a critical ally of the Americans.
He added, “we are obliged to defend ourselves and our province, not to fight for the Americans or the Iraqi government.”
Other tribal leaders fighting the militants say that they are not aligned with the government, and that they have not accepted any government assistance.
“Qaeda killed my brother and other members of my family,” said Sheikh Abdul Karim Rafi Fahdawi, another tribal leader in Ramadi. “I will take revenge.”
“This is our war,” he added, “and we don’t want to be accused of working for the government.”
Ali al-Mousawi, a spokesman for Mr. Maliki, rejected the criticism that the government had neglected the fighters, but said: “Now the Awakening is part of the state, and considered the same as the army or police in terms of benefits, salaries and retirement. Even their wounded will be treated at government expense.”
In the face of sharply escalating violence last year, the government began reaching out to Sunni tribes across the country as part of a nationwide counterinsurgency strategy, and has accelerated those efforts amid the crisis in Anbar. But the effort has been fraught from the beginning, with former fighters caught between their mistrust of the government and their fear of revenge killings by Al Qaeda, which appear to have increased recently. The latest episode came Sunday morning, when gunmen attacked a checkpoint in Diyala Province, killing five men.
In Baghdad, a new recruiting call has gone out in Adhamiya, a Sunni-majority neighborhood that was once a Qaeda stronghold.
“The government called us back a month ago,” said Abu Karam, an Anbar Awakening leader in Adhamiya. “Until now, they have given us nothing but promises — no weapons and no money. We have depended on ourselves even to buy uniforms. They tell us, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine.’ ”
He mistrusts the government, and he said he had been patrolling with army units, but was not allowed to even carry a weapon.
“The Awakening was an American idea, and the Iraqi government has returned to it now because they are facing the same situation the Americans faced back in 2005,” Abu Karam said. “They know this is the best idea, because it proved to be successful. But the government, like with everything it does, they don’t know how to use the Awakening in the right way like the Americans did.”
Separately, the government is pushing other former combatants onto the battlefield in Anbar with another program. In recent years, the government pursued a reconciliation program with former fighters from Iraq’s myriad insurgent groups that sprung up to fight the Americans. The government has bought back nearly 100,000 weapons from these men, in exchange for their signing a statement that they had never killed Iraqis (having killed Americans, though, did not disqualify anyone) and promised to not return to militancy.
Now the government is rearming about 1,000 of these men and sending them to Anbar, according to Amer al-Khuzai, a government official in charge of reconciliation programs.
Adil Abd al-Mahdi, a former Iraqi vice president who is considered a moderate Shiite leader, said the fight in Anbar could finally push the Maliki government toward a lasting reconciliation with the Sunnis, potentially breaking Iraq’s perpetual cycle of crisis.
“It is very dangerous,” Mr. Mahdi said of the Anbar crisis. “But it also opens certain options.”
Still, he confessed, of Mr. Maliki’s true intentions, “We don’t know his real plans.”
Few analysts are optimistic that Mr. Maliki is intent on pursuing a durable reconciliation with the Sunnis, especially before elections in April, when he will seek a third term. He has privately told American officials that he believes that were he to offer political compromises to Sunnis now it would weaken him politically among Shiites.
Still there are modest signs of what a reconciliation could look like. In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, the city’s religious establishment is housing dozens of Sunni families from Falluja who have fled the fighting in a camp built for Shiite religious pilgrims.
Some of the families had been displaced from their homes for the fourth time since the American invasion of 2003. One of the refugees, Abdul Aziz, 45, a driver, said that he was stunned by the Shiite hospitality and that it reminded him of an earlier time, before the worst of the sectarian bloodletting began almost a decade ago, the newspaper concluded.
When he finally returns to Falluja, he said, “I will say proudly that I was in Karbala.”