Just how many former "Sons of Iraq" members have been arrested is a matter of contention. But the anecdotal evidence suggests that the official figure of about 164 in the last year is an under-estimate.
In the once volatile neighborhood of Tahrir, in Baqouba, members of the Sons of Iraq stood guard Sunday and complained to a visiting reporter that they hadn't been paid in three months. It's a complaint heard also among Baghdad members
"They said we'd be in the police or army, and the opposite happened," complained Ahmed Farris Awad as he stood guard in the middle of the street in the city north of Baghdad. "They started detaining us. But we are still doing our duty."
Awad's brother is still in U.S. custody in Bucca where he's been held for about 14 months. He said his brother, Shawki Farris Awad, was the first to fight Al Qaida in Diyala - at the height of the violence, and at a time that Al Qaida was beheading people in the streets.
Most of the Sons of Iraq leaders fled the country in the lead-up to their transfer to Iraqi government control at the beginning of this year, while others were detained and two died, at least one at the hands of police, according to militia members in Tahrir.
Khalil Ibrahim, a militia member known by the name Abu Ali, carries a video on his cell phone showing his dead colleague Sheikh Bashir Ibrahim.
Sheikh Ibrahim was detained for a month late last year, severely beaten and then sent to the hospital where he died, Abu Ali said. The video depicts the bruised, purple body of his friend, with holes drilled in his foot and stomach and large scabs on his back from electric shocks. Police said he died of kidney failure.
"This is our fate," Abu Ali said. "America implemented an experiment with us, and when they saw the experiment succeeded they withdrew their support."
Mullah Shahab al Saafi, a top leader in the movement, has been in detention for more than three months. Lower-level members were detained in the months since, Ibrahim said. But after Bashir Khalil's death, the U.S. military has pressed the Iraqi police in Diyala not to torture its prisoners.
Abu Ali warned that if detentions continue, and the militia men give up their function of suppressing Al Qaida in Iraq, the extremists will be back in power on these streets.
"If we leave, the situation will return as it was," he said.
Inside Abu Ali's home, his friend and commander Sabah Bashir Hassan, Abu Talib, who'd hidden from the authorities for months, said he finally turned himself in. His wife thought she'd never see him again. But because of intense U.S. military pressure, he was treated well and the police disdainfully called him the Son of the Americans. Charges were dropped and they begrudgingly released him.
He said he is retiring from the Sons of Iraq because he no longer wants to be targeted. He plans to go into politics.
"The Prime Minister and all those who are with him, must understand truly we are the Sons of Iraq not the enemies," he said. "We were born here and they can't throw us into another land."
All three men who sat in Abu Ali's home Sunday with Abu Taliba said they were wanted by the Iraqi security forces.
At the Iraqi National Police headquarters in Baqouba, Col. Ragheb Radhi Abbas turned on his computer screen and played videos of beheadings and shooting conducted by Sunni insurgent groups in Diyala province.
"This is the Sahwas," he said, referring to the Sons of Iraq, using the Arabic word for "Awakening." "Now they've become a part of the state."
(Special Correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Hussein Kadhim contributed to this report.)
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