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Analysis: Iraq militia strategy unravels

Fewer than 600 of the 103,000 Iraqis currently active in U.S.-supported militia groups have been absorbed into the Iraqi security forces so far.
by Shaun Waterman
Washington (UPI) Aug 26, 2008
The U.S. strategy of paying former Iraqi insurgents to join tribal militias and work to improve security -- which many experts credit with reducing violence in the war-battered country -- is being fatally hamstrung by the unwillingness of the central government to integrate them into the Iraqi security forces.

Fewer than 600 of the 103,000 Iraqis currently active in U.S.-supported militia groups have been absorbed so far, said Colin Kahl of the centrist Center for a New American Security, citing figures provided by the U.S. military during his recent trip to Iraq.

Kahl and others believe that if the militias are not integrated into the Iraqi security forces, many will likely rejoin the insurgency, putting at risk the fragile security gains of recent months.

But the Shiite-led Iraqi government is deliberately stymieing efforts at absorption, he said, echoing the comments of the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, reported last week by McClatchy News.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "has no interest in integrating these guys -- none," said Kahl. "He thinks they're thugs; he thinks they're hooligans. żż In fact, there's some evidence that he's trying to pick fights with them, hoping that they will start a fight so that he can then turn around and finish them."

Several news organizations reported last week that Iraqi security forces had orders to arrest or kill many hundreds of the leaders of the militia groups, which Maliki's government believes are threats.

They "just changed their T-shirts. There are large numbers who were really al-Qaida. We have to really look hard for those elements without blood on their hands," Haidar Abadi, a lawmaker from Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, told the Los Angeles Times.

Kahl, who has periodically advised the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said the U.S. military had a target of getting 16,000 members of the mainly Sunni militia groups -- known variously as Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq -- into the Iraqi security forces by next summer, but added that was unlikely to happen absent greatly increased U.S. pressure on the Maliki regime.

"(Maliki) doesn't think he needs to accommodate these guys. He will only accommodate them if we twist his arm to the breaking point, period," Kahl told a recent briefing for reporters.

Recently retired U.S. Army counterinsurgency expert Col. John Nagl, who traveled with Kahl to Iraq, attributed the slow progress of integration efforts to bureaucratic snafus rather than malice.

"Never underestimate the ability of (a) bureaucracy just to screw things up through inefficiency. żż I'm sure that there is some sectarianism in these decisions, but I also am confident that some of it is just inefficient bureaucracy."

But Kahl said official torpor alone could not explain the slow rate of absorption.

"There are five or six different Iraqi entities that get a cut on who gets in and who doesn't," he said, dismissing suggestions that the low rate of acceptance was due to the militiamen failing to reach physical fitness, literacy or other minimum standards.

"Even that subset of the population that meets the physical and literacy requirements" will be rejected, he said.

"Typically, things like this happen: We give the Ministry of Interior 1,000 names. They look at the names. They say, we'll let 400 people into the Iraqi police. If you look at the 400 people they let into the Iraqi police, a bunch of them weren't on our list and they're also overwhelming(ly) (Shiite)."

Kahl added that attempting to absorb militia leaders into the Iraqi police, rather than the army, was a strategy beset by other problems.

"Oh, sure, we'll let that colonel in the żż Republican Guard into the Iraqi police, but we'll make him an enlisted beat cop," he said of the attitude of Baghdad officials. "Do you know how low on the social scale that is in Iraq and how humiliating this is?"

Kahl and others have warned of the consequences if the militias are not effectively integrated into the national security forces by the June 2009 deadline that the U.S. military has set for ending its $25 million-a-month support for the groups.

"We've lived through years of humiliating these guys and seen the results that's produced," he said. "You don't have to believe that 100,000 of these guys are going to turn back into insurgents. If 5,000 of them do, that could be a big problem."

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Iraq, US agree no foreign troops after 2011: PM
Baghdad (AFP) Aug 25, 2008
Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday Washington and Baghdad have agreed there will be no foreign forces in Iraq after 2011, setting a timeline for a US withdrawal from the war-torn country.

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