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Comments by YACCS
Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wow, the miitias are powerful?

Armed members of the militia of the Shiite cleric
Moktada al-Sadr guarded trucks filled with
protesters on Thursday after demonstrations in
Baghdad against the attack on a Shiite shrine in
Samarra the day before.

Sectarian Bloodshed Reveals Strength of Iraq Militias

Published: February 25, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 24 — The sectarian violence that has shaken Iraq this week has demonstrated the power that the many militias here have to draw the country into a full-scale civil war, and how difficult it would be for the state to stop it, Iraqi and American officials say.

The militias pose a double threat to the future of Iraq: they exist both as marauding gangs, as the violence on Wednesday showed, and as sanctioned members of the Iraqi Army and the police.

The insurgent bombing of a major Shiite shrine on Wednesday, followed by the wave of killings of Sunni Arabs, has left political parties on all sides clinging to their private armies harder than ever, complicating American efforts to persuade Iraqis to disband them.

The attacks, mostly by Shiite militiamen, were troubling not only because they resulted in at least 170 deaths across Iraq, but also because they showed how deeply the militias have spread inside government forces. The Iraqi police, commanded by a Shiite political party, stood by as the rampage spread.

Now, after watching helplessly as their mosques and homes burned, many Sunni Arabs say they should have the right to form their own militias.

For their part, Shiite political leaders and clerics say they are justified in keeping — and even strengthening — their armies, including those units in the government security forces, to prevent insurgent attacks like the one that destroyed the golden dome of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra on Wednesday.

That stance threatens to derail recent American efforts, especially those of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, to persuade Shiite leaders to dissolve their militias and weed out police officers and soldiers whose allegiances lie with their own sect and not with the state. That is essential for the process of forming a government that would be credible to all of Iraq's religious and ethnic groups.

Shiite leaders' denunciations of Mr. Khalilzad, who hinted Monday that Americans might not pay for security forces run by sectarian interests, made it clear that positions had hardened. "We have decided to incorporate militias into the Iraqi security forces, and we are serious about this decision," Hadi al-Amari, the head of the Badr Organization, a thousands-strong Shiite militia, said in a telephone interview. Since the Shiites took control of the Interior Ministry last spring, Badr members have swelled the ranks of the police.

Mr. Khalilzad was trying "to prevent the Shiites from getting the security portfolio," he added. "The security portfolio is a red line, and we will never relinquish it."

Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, American officials tried unsuccessfully to disband Iraq's myriad private armies, from Kurdish pesh merga in the mountainous north to the black-clad Mahdi Army patrolling poor Shiite enclaves in Baghdad and Basra. The Coalition Provisional Authority had plans to force Iraqi leaders to dissolve their militias, but never followed through. Nor did the Americans press the case even after putting down two uprisings by the Mahdi Army in 2004.

The persistence of the Mahdi Army, the militia of Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric, illustrates the challenge facing the Americans in Iraq. A grass-roots organization, it operates both openly in the streets, as it did this week, when young men with Kalashnikov rifles attacked Sunni mosques, and inside the system, where members serve as police officers wearing uniforms and cruising around in patrol cars.

Though many Shiite leaders denounced the anti-Sunni reprisals this week, none of them chastised the Mahdi Army or called for disbanding it. That itself was a clear indication of how the politicians were looking to the militia as a protector of Shiite interests in the wake of the shrine attack.

Those political leaders who have no militias, particularly Sunni Arabs, say they feel more helpless than ever in this shifting landscape of private armies.

"Anybody who has a militia now has power," said Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and member of the newly elected Parliament. "The Mahdi Army, Badr, the insurgents, these are the ones who wield power. They have weapons, they can move around and they are determined. It's not a question of political personalities, but of arms and weapons."

I'm totally surprised this happened.

No seriously. I am.

Not like I predicted this tree years ago or anything

posted by Steve @ 9:00:00 AM

9:00:00 AM

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