BAGHDAD (AP) — Wisam al-Hardan's cellphone rang late into the night. He let it ring on and on. He couldn't bear to answer.
Al-Hardan, a leader in the Sunni tribal militias that allied with the U.S. to help turn the tide against al-Qaida in Iraq, knew what the Sunni fighters on the other end of the line wanted: weapons to fight the Islamic extremists rampaging across their lands. Al-Hardan also knew he had nothing to offer them.
"I don't want to remember these hours," he said. "Very painful hours."
The various threads that came together to leave al-Hardan sitting powerless in his Baghdad home wind back through the years of broken promises and failed policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki toward the Sunni militiamen popularly known as Sahwa, or Awakening Councils. Al-Hardan and former Sahwa members say that under the Shiite prime minister, the militias were neglected, corruption flourished — and though millions of dollars were appropriated, militiamen were still left poorly armed and ill equipped.
The results speak for themselves. Over the past month, militants led by the extremist Islamic State group overpowered the military and the Sahwa, seizing control of most of the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq. The jihadis have systematically killed dozens of former Sahwa leaders, forced others to flee and recruited the remaining foot soldiers through intimidation.
The checkered dealings with the Sahwa in recent years drained the Sunni community of any trust in the Baghdad government and particularly in al-Maliki, who is seeking a third consecutive four-year term. That presents an immense challenge to inducing the Sunni tribal fighters who turned on al-Qaida once before to risk everything again — even if they wanted to — and side with the government against the new insurgency.
"We have zero trust in al-Maliki, who will continue to deceive us and hurt us if he is to win a third term. If al-Maliki stays in power, then nobody will be willing to return to Sahwa," said Abu Sahir, a former Sahwa leader in Khan Bani Saad in Diyala province who became a fighter in the anti-government Mujahedeen Army militant group.
"But if al-Maliki is to be replaced by another person who would do something to stop the corruption and the humiliation, we might reconsider our position."
It's impossible to gauge how widespread that sentiment is. Other former Sahwa fighters who have joined the militants say they have severed ties with Baghdad for good. The internal dynamics of the insurgency — such as sometimes divergent interests between the Islamic State group and other Sunnis who have joined its fight — are also unpredictable and could affect the decisions of thousands of individual fighters on whether to stick with the movement.
But the bitterness Sunnis feel about their treatment under al-Maliki is clear.
The Sahwa emerged in late 2006 when Sunni tribesmen who had previously battled the U.S. military decided to team up with the Americans instead to fight al-Qaida in Iraq after becoming alienated by the group's brutality. The Americans provided the weapons, training and money — at least $370 million over a three-year period — and the Sunni fighters helped the U.S. troops root out much of the extremist group.
In 2009, the U.S. handed responsibility for the Sahwa over to Iraq's Shiite-led government, which promised Washington it would fold the some 100,000 Sunni fighters into the security forces or other government jobs. Around 23,000 former Sahwa fighters were eventually put on the government payroll, according to Ahmed Abu Risha, a leading Sahwa figure.
But many more were not.
Al-Maliki — a Shiite wary of an armed Sunni force — withheld political and financial support for years, happy to watch the Sahwa wither. That contributed to a sense of neglect among many former Sahwa fighters since the 2011 U.S. military withdrawal.
As the Sahwa waned, al-Qaida in Iraq slowly regained its footing. It pushed aggressively into Syria's civil war in early 2013 and rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Its success in Syria helped fuel its resurgence on the Iraqi side of the border, leading to a sharp deterioration of security in Iraq.
In February of 2013, al-Maliki's government hit upon the idea of resurrecting the Sahwa. In part the aim was to rally Sunni militiamen against the extremists. But there were also political considerations: With parliamentary elections a year off, the prime minister might be able to garner a bit of goodwill by putting Sunnis on the government payroll.
But the new Sahwa from the start was undermined by Sunni divisions over al-Maliki.
Al-Hardan was elected in early 2013 as the head of the "new Sahwa," but he was never fully welcomed by many of the old Sahwa leaders, particularly Ahmed Abu Risha, who had long been recognized as the leading figure in the movement. The old guard viewed al-Hardan as al-Maliki's man — a label that turned toxic as Sunni protests against the prime minister's Shiite-led government gained pace.
"The new Sahwa formed by the government is corrupt, and the government wanted to copy the old Sahwa with new pro-government leaders," said Dhari al-Rishawi, an adviser to the Anbar governor and a Sahwa leader with Abu Risha.
The relations among senior Sahwa figures were further complicated by traditional rivalries among the tribes, as well as tussling over control of business interests and patronage networks. Personalities and egos clashed.
Amer al-Khuzaie, al-Maliki's adviser on reconciliation and Sahwa, said that as of June 1, 2014, there were 31,000 fighters nationwide for the new Sahwa. The largest contingents were in Mosul and Anbar, which boasted 10,000 members apiece, he said, and the budget stood at $250 million a year for the project.
But the Sahwa seemed to exist more on paper than on the ground, said Kirk Sowell, a political risk analyst who is the publisher of the bi-weekly newsletter Inside Iraqi Politics.
"It was clearly a very half-baked idea," he said. "The government provided money, for sure, but I never saw an armed formation per se."
Members of the new Sahwa say most of those funds were not reaching the fighters.
Al-Hardan complained of a lack of weapons and ammunition, and said "corruption, salary cuts and personal interests have all affected the national interest."
"They give each one only 20 bullets, not enough to enter a battle," he said, in comments echoed by others. "We buy weapons and ammunition with our own money to defend ourselves."
When the Islamic State group took Mosul in early June, it seized documents from the military and intelligence headquarters in the city that detailed the names and addresses of old Sahwa figures, said al-Khuzaie. The militants then went to their houses and killed them.
"Sahwa is going through a big problem. There is fear, killing and displacement," said al-Hardan. "Sahwa is now between two fires: the fire of the Islamic State and the fire of corruption and the lack of support."
Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, and Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.
SNIZHNE, Ukraine (AP) — It was lunchtime when a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles rolled into town and parked on Karapetyan Street. Fifteen hundred miles (2,400 kilometers) to the west, passengers were checking in for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
It had been a noisy day in this eastern Ukrainian town, residents recounted. Plenty of military equipment was moving through. But still it was hard to miss the bulky missile system, also known as a Buk M-1. It left deep tread marks in the asphalt as it rumbled by in a small convoy.
The vehicles stopped in front of journalists from The Associated Press. A man wearing unfamiliar fatigues, speaking with a distinctive Russian accent, checked to make sure they weren't filming. The convoy then moved on, destination unknown in the heart of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebellion.
Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises.
And then they saw pieces of twisted metal — and bodies— fall from the sky.
The rebel leadership in Donetsk has repeatedly and publicly denied any responsibility for the downing of Flight 17.
Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for rebel leader Alexander Borodai, repeated to the AP on Friday that no rebel units had weapons capable of shooting that high, and said any suggestions to the contrary are part of an information war aimed at undermining the insurgents' cause.
Nevertheless, the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official. The Ukrainian government has also provided purported communications intercepts that it says show rebel involvement in the shoot-down.
A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.
The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.
Intercepted phone conversations released by the Ukrainian government appear to back up the contention they were unaware the aircraft was a passenger jet.
In those tapes, the first rebels to reach the scene can be heard swearing when they see the number of bodies and the insignia of Malaysia Airlines.
Ukraine immediately blamed the rebels for the shooting. In an interview in Kiev this week, the Ukrainian counterterrorism chief, Vitaly Nayda, gave the AP the government's version of the events of July 17. He said the account was based on information from intercepts, spies and resident tips.
Nayda laid the blame fully on Russia: He said the missile launcher came from Russia and was operated by Russians. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday declined to comment on either charge. Moscow has continually denied involvement in the downing of the plane.
The rebel official who spoke to AP did not address the question of any Russian government involvement in the attack. U.S. officials have blamed Russia for creating the "conditions" for the downing of the plane, but have offered no evidence that the missile came from Russia or that Russia directly was involved.
According to Nayda, at 1 a.m. on July 17 the launcher rolled into Ukraine across the Russian border aboard a flatbed truck. He cited communications intercepts that he would not share with the AP. By 9 a.m., he said, the launcher had reached Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the border. In Donetsk it is presumed to have been off-loaded from the flatbed and started to move in a convoy on its own.
Nayda said the Buk turned back east toward Snizhne. Townspeople who spoke to the AP said it rolled into Snizhne around lunchtime.
"On that day there was a lot of military equipment moving about in town," recalled Tatyana Germash, a 55-year-old accountant, interviewed Monday, four days after the attack.
Valery Sakharov, a 64-year-old retired miner, pointed out the spot where he saw the missile launcher.
"The Buk was parked on Karapetyan Street at midday, but later it left; I don't know where," he said. "Look — it even left marks on the asphalt."
Even before the plane was downed, the AP had reported on the presence of the missile launcher in the town July 17.
Here is what that dispatch said: "An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw seven rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. In the town, he also observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet)."
AP journalists saw the Buk moving through town at 1:05 p.m. The vehicle, which carried four 18-foot (5.5-meter) missiles, was in a convoy with two civilian cars.
The convoy stopped. A man in sand-colored camouflage without identifying insignia — different from the green camouflage the rebels normally wear — approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn't, the convoy moved on.
About three hours later, at 4:18 p.m., according to a recording from an intercepted phone call that has been released by Ukraine's government, the Buk's crew snapped to attention when a spotter called in a report of an incoming airplane.
"A bird is flying to you," the spotter tells the rebel, identified by the Ukrainians as Igor Bezler, an insurgent commander who the Ukrainian government asserts is also a Russian intelligence officer.
The man identified as Bezler responds: "Reconnaissance plane or a big one?"
"I can't see behind the clouds. Too high," the spotter replies.
The rebel official who spoke to the AP about the incident said that Bezler commanded another fighter, code-named Sapper, who was the ranking rebel officer with the missile launcher at the time.
According to the rebel official, Sapper led a rebel unit, about half of which was made up of men from far eastern Russia, many from the island of Sakhalin off Russia's Pacific coast.
Sapper is from the nearby town of Yenakiieve, he said. The town also happens to be the home of the former president, Yanukovych.
Sapper could not be reached for comment; his real identity is not known. Bezler, contacted on Friday by the AP, denied any connection to the attack on the plane. "I did not shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane. I did not have the physical capabilities to do so," he declared.
According to the account of the rebel official, however, Sapper had been sent that day to inspect three checkpoints — in the towns of Debaltsevo, Chernukhino and Snizhne, all of which are within a 20-mile (30-kilometer) radius of where the plane went down. At some point in these travels, he joined up with the convoy accompanying the missile launch system.
At about 4:20 p.m., in the town of Torez, six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne, residents heard loud noises. Some reported hearing two blasts, while others recall only one.
"I heard two powerful blasts in a row. First there was one, but then after a minute, a minute and a half, there was another discharge," said Rostislav Grishin, a 21-year-old prison guard. "I raised my head and within a minute I could see a plane falling through the clouds."
At 4:40 p.m., in another intercepted call released by Ukraine, the man identified as Bezler tells his own superior that the unit had shot down a plane.
"Just shot down a plane. It was Sapper's group. It went down beyond Yenakiieve," the man says.
While the authenticity of the intercept cannot be verified independently, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said specialists in the intelligence community have deemed it authentic.
As for the Buk, Nayda said, intelligence suggests it went back on the move shortly after the attack.
That very night, he said, it crossed the border, back into Russia.
Leonard reported from Kiev. Other AP correspondents in eastern Ukraine assisted in this report.
XIXI, Taiwan (AP) — The 10 survivors of Taiwan's worst air disaster in more than a decade include a 34-year-old woman who called her father after scrambling from the wreckage and seeking help at a nearby home.
Hung Yu-ting escaped through a hole in the fuselage that opened up after the plane plowed into homes Wednesday while attempting to land on the outlying resort island of Penghu, killing 48 people.
"She called me on the phone to say the plane had crashed and exploded but that she had already crawled out and I should come right away to get her," said Hung's father, Hung Chang-ming, who lives just a few hundred meters (yards) from the crash site.
Hung rushed to the scene, but his daughter had already been taken away by rescuers.
"When I was halfway there the fire was still really big, but it was smaller when I arrived on the scene," Hung told reporters. "There were two other injured outside and the first ambulance had already taken away three, including my daughter."
Hung Chang-ming joined rescuers and other residents in putting out the fire and rescuing other survivors before going to the hospital to check on his daughter.
Hung Yu-ting was recovering Friday from burns to her arms, legs and back suffered during her escape. The condition of the other survivors wasn't immediately known.
Other relatives weren't so lucky, some recalling the last phone conversations with their loved ones.
Shu Chi-tse said he had spoken to his son, Shu Chong-tai, just before the flight left the southern city of Kaohsiung on Taiwan's main island for the short ride west across the Taiwan Strait.
"He is a good boy. He cares for me and his mom. He loves his grandma a lot," Shu said.
Among the dead were all four members of the flight crew, a family of six and a family of four. They included several children, among them 9-year-old Ho Po-yu, who was returning home to Penghu with his mother after attending a summer camp for young choral singers.
Stormy weather and low visibility are thought to have been factors in the crash of the twin-propeller ATR-72 operated by TransAsia Airways.
The investigation is expected to focus on a four-minute gap between the pilot's request for a second approach and the plane's crashing into village homes at 7:10 p.m., during which visibility dropped by half.
One of the questions is why the pilots decided to proceed with the flight despite rough weather on the heels of a typhoon that had forced the cancellation of about 200 flights earlier in the day. However, aviation authorities said conditions were safe for flying and two other planes had landed at Penghu prior to the crash.
The mother of one of the victims screamed at TransAsia Chairman Vincent Lin when he arrived to pay respects at the funeral hall Friday.
Lin kneeled down, bowed to the woman and apologized.
"Give me back my son, he is only 27 years old," the woman cried. "He is still young, but now he is lying there at the morgue. I want my son back."
"This is an unpredictable tragedy. The priority for us is to assist victims' relatives," Lin later told reporters as Buddhist monks conducted rituals for the dead.
Local media reported Friday that the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder had been sent to the main island of Taiwan for analysis. One of the devices was damaged in the crash and ensuing fire, and it wasn't immediately clear when results of the investigation would be made public.
The TransAsia crash was Taiwan's first deadly civil aviation accident since 2002, when a China Airlines plane went down shortly after takeoff, killing 225.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio State marching band is moving forward without its director: A day after he was fired, the band is performing with the Columbus Symphony in what is often considered its unofficial season kickoff.
The university dismissed band director Jonathan Waters on Thursday after an investigation determined that he knew about and failed to stop a "sexualized" culture of rituals, including students being pressured to march in their underwear, sing lewd songs and perform sexually themed stunts that yielded often explicit nicknames.
Waters had led the 225-member band since 2012, succeeding 25-year veteran director Jon Woods. Waters' halftime shows for what's known to fans as "The Best Damn Band in the Land" were considered revolutionary.
Waters changed the shows by drawing them out on iPads instead of paper, directing marchers who morphed into the shapes of horses, superheroes and dinosaurs appearing to gallop, fly and tromp across the Buckeye football field.
Its technological advances landed the band in an Apple commercial in January. One performance in which the band takes the shape of a moonwalking Michael Jackson has more than 10 million views on YouTube.
Ohio State President Michael Drake, on the job just three weeks, said he acted after being "profoundly disappointed and shocked" by the findings of a two-month investigation that began before his arrival.
"This is 2014, and we respect our students as young adults," Drake said. "We respect women, and we respect all the different people who work with us, we respect that diversity. We just had to make a square-wave change between this report, which was unacceptable, and the future, which we start today."
The report began with a parent's complaint of "objectionable traditions and customs," about which band members were sworn to secrecy.
They included "games" students were assigned to play to earn sexually themed nicknames: One female student had to pretend to have an orgasm while sitting on the lap of a fellow band member, her brother, and others pretended to be sex toys, prostitutes or body parts. Investigators found Waters was aware of some students' nicknames and allegedly used them "when he was upset," but he is also reported to have advised students against the monikers.
Another tradition — described as optional — is called the Midnight Ramp. It involves band members stripping down to their underwear and marching in formation on the field of Ohio Stadium. Investigators found band staff and directors, including Waters, had sometimes attended. One female student said older members of the band would warn newcomers to wear "fuller coverage" undergarments for the event; others wore pajamas or shorts, but some marched naked.
In the report, assistant director Michael Smith said he didn't believe it when he saw it. An associate band director, Christopher Hech, said he recalled a student having alcohol poisoning at the event some years ago.
Email and phone messages were left with Waters seeking comment. In the report, he disagreed that the band's culture is sexualized. He said he was working to change things and it was evolving. He also suggested to investigators "that sexual innuendo is found in much of what college students do."
A spokesman said the university was required to promptly perform the probe under federal Title IX sexual discrimination laws. The university has appointed former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to lead an independent follow-up review.
Drake said he is a huge fan of the band and wants to see it get beyond these activities and carry on its tradition of excellence.
"There are an infinite number of ways that people can bond that are not really demeaning and anachronistic," he said.
NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market is ending lower after Visa and Amazon posted disappointing results.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 123 points, 0.7 percent, to close at 16,960 Friday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell nine points, or 0.5 percent, to end at 1,978. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite dropped 22 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,449.
Amazon's stock slumped $34.60, or 9.6 percent, to $324.01 after the online retail giant posted a wider loss than analysts had forecast. The stock slid the most in the S&P 500 index.
The Dow was dragged down by Visa, which fell $7.97, or 3.6 percent, to $214.77. The credit card processing giant reported an 11 percent rise in quarterly profit but cut its full-year forecast on concerns about overseas growth.