Iraqi militias will 'undermine government'

The failure of US-led forces to disarm Iraqi militias poses a fateful challenge for the upcoming interim Iraqi government, a prestigious think tank has warned.

    Iraqi militias have not been disbanded by the US

    Gary Samore, an analyst at

    London's International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), said on Wednesday that

    "it's a sad fact of life that the coalition is not capable

    of disarming the militias".

    "In fact in order to manage the situation," he said, "the coalition has

    had to accept the creation of new private armies as in the case

    of Falluja where for all intents and purposes security has been

    put into the hands of a Sunni, former Baathist force."

    A year ago, Iraq's US occupation administrator Paul Bremer dissolved

    Saddam Hussein's armed forces to root out Baathist

    influence, vowing that ethnic and sectarian militias would also

    be disbanded as national security forces were rebuilt.

    But today, Kurdish and Shia militias remain largely intact,

    even if some have removed or changed their uniforms.

    Security vacuum

    A new militia led by Shia leader Muqtadar al-Sadr

    is fighting US-led forces in the south. And in Falluja, a local

    force, led by former Iraqi army officers and incorporating resistance fighters, has

    taken over in a deal with the US military.

    "If the security vacuum cannot be dealt with, then ordinary

    Iraqis will increasingly be required to look to the militias for

    some sense of order. In return, these militias will demand

    political loyalty from their new constituents"

    IISS survey

    "This proliferation of militias in Iraq is the major problem

    facing the new government," the IISS said in its annual survey

    released on Tuesday.

    "If the security vacuum cannot be dealt with, then ordinary

    Iraqis will increasingly be required to look to the militias for

    some sense of order. In return, these militias will demand

    political loyalty from their new constituents."

    This does not imply a Lebanon-style sectarian civil war is

    imminent, the survey argues, but if their power is unchecked,

    militias could undermine central government authority.

    The US military's crackdown on al-Sadr's Mahdi Army appears

    to have been a belated - and not yet successful - attempt to

    eliminate a militia trying to disrupt Washington's aims to hand

    over to a pro-American government on 30 June.

    Occupation forces

    US-led forces, now more than 150,000 strong, will stay in

    Iraq after the handover to try to prevent violence from wrecking

    plans to hold national assembly elections by January.

    The United States and Britain have drafted a Security

    Council resolution that calls on UN members to contribute to

    the multinational force, but few will rush to do so.

    "It's very unlikely that large numbers of additional forces

    will be sent to Iraq," said Christopher Langton, an IISS

    military analyst, estimating that up to 500,000 troops were

    needed to deal with Iraq's numerous, well-armed resistance.

    Many Iraqis have no respect for
    the US-appointed authorities

    US and British forces are stretched thin and faced strong

    domestic constraints on expanding their role. Other nations are not

     keen to send troops into "this desperate situation".

    It would be hard for UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to pick an

    interim government of Iraqis with national appeal, rather than

    those representing ethnic and sectarian groups, Langton said.

    Absence of leadership

    "The long-term concern is that the combination of increasing

    strength of the militias and the absence of national political

    leadership in Iraq may create the conditions for civil strife."

    Waiting uneasily in the wings are Kurdish and Shia

    parties which have cooperated with the US-led occupation but

    do not want to disarm while insecurity and uncertainty prevail.

    Thousands of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen in the north have

    joined the police or other units of the new security forces, but

    their main loyalties lie with the two main Kurdish parties.

    The armed wings of two Shia groups, the Badr Brigade and

    the Daawa party militia, have largely stayed out of sight or

    changed their names, but they have hung onto their guns.

    These Kurdish and Shia groups have long argued their

    trained fighters and intelligence men could deal effectively

    with Baathist rebels and foreign fighters if given the chance.

    Failures

    But wary of entrenching militias in Iraq's security forces, the

    US-led administration has resisted. In a new twist, it announced

    last month that former Iraqi officers were welcome to join the

    new army, provided they did not have "blood on their hands".

    While many Iraqis distinguish the old regular army from

    Saddam's hated Republican Guards and security agencies, some may

    have misgivings about swiftly reconstituting it now.

    "The long-term concern is that the combination of increasing

    strength of the militias and the absence of national political

    leadership in Iraq may create the conditions for civil strife"

    Christopher Langton,
    IISS military analyst

    President George Bush himself has acknowledged failures.

    "In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi forces fell

    short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy," he said this

    week, adding that units would get more training in future.

    Security forces

    Bush spoke of plans to train 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police,

    and other security personnel, saying the goal was an army of

    35,000 in 27 battalions. Five battalions are already in the

    field and another eight will join them by 1 July.

    Defence Minister Ali Allawi said on Tuesday that Iraqi forces,

    stiffened by recruits from the Saddam-era army, could gradually

    take on a bigger role and replace US-led troops within a year.

    However, the IISS said rebuilding Iraqi forces was a

    long-term venture, which could be compromised by relying on

    militias or integrating them too fast.

    "There appears to be little chance in the immediate future

    that the security vacuum... can be filled by either coalition

    troops or by the nascent military and police forces hastily

    stood up since liberation," the survey said.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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