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An Iraqi Plan To Oust Militias

The report says that because the area's Sunni population has more trust in the U.S. military than the mainly Shiite Iraqi forces, with the situation being reversed among the Shiite population, the United States should stay out of the areas largely controlled by the Shiite dominated militias and stick to the more diverse areas of Baghdad where insurgents are more likely to strike. The Shiite areas, the report says, should be left to the best units of the Iraqi military, where it is hoped they would take over the protective roles the militias currently provide.
by Owen Praskievicz
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) March 28, 2007
An Iraqi research group presented a report Wednesday outlining its plans to secure peace in the beleaguered state. In the report on disbanding Iraq's militias, the non-partisan Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research laid out a three-phase approach to stifle militias' power by securing neighborhoods and providing services to the Iraqi people, along with extending incentives to the militias through amnesty and competition.

The institute said the plan would instill a national loyalty that they say was lost even before the United States removed Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"People feel inclined to join and support militias because of security," said Michael Eisenstadt, the director of the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Eisenstadt took part in the American Enterprise Institute's panel discussion on the practicality of the Baghdad Institute's plan.

"The principle driver of violence was insurgency, and a lot of militias gained support from insurgent violence," Eisenstadt said. "Political power is seen coming through the barrel of a gun."

In the same spirit as the U.S.-backed Iraq Study Group, which released its assessment of Iraq's troubles in early December, the Baghdad Institute's plan takes a more concentrated approach at explaining why militias have grown so strong since Hussein's ouster and takes a practical look at breaking up Iraq's militias. The report outlines both short-term and long-term plans for converting militiamen into government employees.

The first phase of the proposed plan, which parallels the new Baghdad security plan implemented this month by coalition and Iraqi security forces, emphasizes a defensive military campaign that focuses on providing security in Baghdad and its surrounding provinces from sectarian death squads and other attacks.

The report says that because the area's Sunni population has more trust in the U.S. military than the mainly Shiite Iraqi forces, with the situation being reversed among the Shiite population, the United States should stay out of the areas largely controlled by the Shiite dominated militias and stick to the more diverse areas of Baghdad where insurgents are more likely to strike. The Shiite areas, the report says, should be left to the best units of the Iraqi military, where it is hoped they would take over the protective roles the militias currently provide.

The report backs the notion that the military must take a more permanent role in the areas they secure to gain the trust of the people as opposed to temporary operations used in the past, something the Baghdad security plan advocates, though the report does not indicate how long soldiers should remain.

The plan's second and third phases, the report suggests, would not be implemented until crime reductions of at least 50 percent occur for four consecutive weeks from when the operation is initiated, an ambitious goal considering the escalation of violence weeks into the current security plan.

Phase two, labeled in the report as a "hearts and mind campaign," looks to provide services to the civilian population by setting up task forces comprised of locals to fulfill basic needs like cleaning and paving the streets, unblocking sewers and providing reliable electricity under the continued protection of U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Essential to the second phase, the report says, is to at the very least create the perception of social improvement so that the government can win the trust of its people.

The last phase of the plan's short-term goals would be to make political parties more responsible for the militias who support them and to encourage militias to be more involved with the government through competitive incentives and amnesty. By incorporating militiamen into the military and other services, the institute hopes loyalty will transfer from their former affiliations to the government.

"Unconditional amnesty is the best shot as a peacemaking tool," said Larry Crandall, a contractor with the U.S. State Department who has worked closely with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq on reintegrating militias. "You make it highly politicized, and (the militias) flounder."

Though the others on the panel agreed that a blanket amnesty would be the best strategy to lure the militias under the government's wing, some expressed caution in publicizing such a policy, saying that if there is an expectation of amnesty, militias will have no reservations for committing crimes up to that point.

The institute says that to keep the militiamen in check, they would have to be given amnesty only if they are recommended by their party, thereby holding the parties accountable for any crimes its recommended militiamen may commit. The plan also suggests implementing ethnic quotas into military units to eliminate corruption.

Concerns were also raised that paying militiamen would amount to rewarding bad behavior, and that if one militia is supported financially it would encourage other groups to imitate their actions. Some on the panel also suggested that it would put the citizens who choose not to take up arms with the militia at a disadvantage.

Even if the Iraqi government adopts the recommendations, they all agreed that none of it would be easy.

"This is just a first step," said Ali Latif, a fellow with the Baghdad Institute and a former exile from Iraq. "There's a difference between winning this and capability."

Source: United Press International

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