Iraq ups anti-Qaeda militia pay to appease demos

Iraqi officials said Tuesday they would up the salaries of Sunni militiamen who fought Al-Qaeda during the country's brutal sectarian war, the latest bid to appease mostly-Sunni anti-government rallies.

The immediate two-thirds increase in wages for the Sahwa, otherwise known as the Sons of Iraq or the Awakening, comes as officials have trumpeted a substantial prisoner release in the face of more than a month of demonstrations in the country's north and west.

Around 41,000 Sahwa fighters are to receive 500,000 Iraqi dinars ($415) a month, up from 300,000 dinars ($250), Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told a news conference on Tuesday.

The Sahwa is composed of bands of Sunni tribesmen who sided with the US military from late-2006 onwards against Al-Qaeda, a key factor helping turn the tide of Iraq's bloody insurgency.

Sunni militants still linked to Al-Qaeda regularly target Sahwa fighters in violent attacks because they regard them as traitors.

An increase in wages for the Sahwa, as well as their incorporation into the security forces and civil service, has long been a demand of Iraq's Sunni community, calls that have been amplified by the recent protests.

In addition to the salary increase, officials in Baghdad recently claimed to have released nearly 900 inmates from Iraqi prisons, but have not provided a breakdown on how many were being held without charge and how many were simply being released as their jail terms had ended.

Shahristani also publicly apologised in a news conference this month for holding detainees without charge.

The demonstrations come amid a political crisis in Iraq that has pitted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against many of his erstwhile government partners less than three months ahead of provincial elections.

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