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Baghdad (AFP) Jan 29, 2013
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.
Two Iraqis living in US sentenced in terrorism case
Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 25, was sentenced to life in federal prison while his accomplice Waad Ramadan Alwan, 31, was sentenced to 40 years in prison followed by supervised release, the US Justice Department said.
Both had pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges, but were not charged with plotting attacks within the United States.
The two Iraqis who were living in Bowling Green, in the southern state of Kentucky, "participated in terrorist activities overseas and attempted to continue providing material support to terrorists while they lived here in the United States," said Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
"With today's sentences, both men are being held accountable," Monaco said.
Authorities arrested Hammadi and Alwan in an FBI sting involving an undercover agent posing as part of a group sending money and weapons to insurgents in Iraq.
Alwan, whose fingerprints were found on an unexploded roadside bomb found in Iraq, pleaded guilty in December 2011 to all counts of a 23-count federal indictment that included conspiracy to kill US nationals abroad and export Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.
In August 2012 Hammadi pleaded guilty to a 12-count indictment that included similar charges.
Alwan however received a reduced sentence because he cooperated with authorities, the Justice Department said.
An undercover FBI agent posing as an Al-Qaeda agent met with Alwan and recorded their meetings starting in August 2010.
"From September 2010 through May 2011, Alwan participated in ten separate operations to send weapons and money that he believed were destined for terrorists in Iraq," the Justice Department said.
In January 2011 Alwan recruited Hammadi, and until May 2011 the two helped ship money and weapons -- including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine guns, and Stinger missiles -- that they believed were destined "for terrorists in Iraq."
All of the weapons had been rendered inert, the statement read.
Hammadi entered the United States in July 2009 and had initially lived in Las Vegas before settling in Kentucky, while his accomplice Alwan arrived three months earlier.
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century