NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: The problem with militias

U.S. forces accused of shooting Sunni allies

Members of a Sunni Muslim group that was formed with American backing to fight Sunni militants charged Wednesday that a lengthy U.S. air and ground attack killed at least seven of its fighters.

Mansour abd Salem, one of the leaders of the Sunni Awakening council in Taji, north of Baghdad, charged in a television interview that U.S. forces had “deliberately” killed members of the group in a “hideous” assault.

The U.S. military said that the operations targeted armed “associates of senior al Qaida in Iraq leaders,” killed 25 suspected terrorists and detained 21 suspects.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, the U.S.-backed Iraqi government seized the offices and shut down the radio station of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a major Sunni group that’s voiced support for al Qaida. In a television interview, the group’s leader, Sheik Harith al Thari, who’s now in Jordan, once said that, “We are from al Qaida and al Qaida are from us.” [complete article]

The problem with militias

Everywhere you go in Iraq, there’s victory. The commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, told reporters last Wednesday that he had wiped al-Qaeda in Iraq out of the city. Stability in Iraq is “within sight, but not yet within touch,” he said. And while categorical statements about progress have come back to haunt U.S. officials, commanders are evincing more certainty about the possibilities of success than they would ever have dared prior to Gen. David Petraeus’ September testimony. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has gone even further, proclaiming “victory against terrorist groups and militias.” It’s pretty bewildering, even for those who’ve seen some recent reasons for cautious optimism.

Perhaps the only voice of caution over the last two weeks has been Ambassador Ryan Crocker. When last Crocker drew attention, it was during his shared testimony with Petraeus, in which he showed a surprising eagerness to lie about the pace with which sectarian reconciliation had advanced. These days, he’s warning of a looming danger — militias taking over the mechanics of running Iraq. Using the military’s acronym for Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, Crocker recently mused, “We have seen JAM Militant transform into JAM Incorporated. They may not be shooting at us or Iraqi soldiers, but [they are] controlling gas stations, real estate, trade and services. … That is a major challenge to the state.”

Right Crocker is. But if he recognized how his observation undermined his colleagues’ declarations of victory, he didn’t show it. Consider the case of the newest militias on the block — the so-called Concerned Local Citizens, a mostly Sunni collection of ex-insurgents and rejections that’s responsible for much of the spring in the steps of U.S. officials. The CLCs represent the U.S.’ first attempt at actually creating Iraqi militias, and U.S. officials are enthusiastic about the effort. Few seem to have noticed that everything Crocker says about the “major challenge” posed by the militias applies to U.S.-friendly militias as much as it does to U.S.-opposed militias. And yet, these new militias are, in large part, the basis for the success that U.S. and Iraqi officials are claiming. [complete article]

Muqtada moves to stop a Sunni ‘surge’

The world is seemingly too busy these days to mind the day-to-day news coming out of Iraq – much to the pleasure of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. With the spotlight off him, Maliki gave an interview to the Saudi television channel al-Arabiyya, in which he asserted that “There is no civil war in Iraq.” He added, “We don’t have a militia problem in Iraq anymore.” He wrapped up by noting that Iran does not have a decision-making influence on the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad.

Maliki knew that he was, to put it politely, not telling the truth. In addition to spreading false public relations about his administration’s effectiveness in combating terrorism, the Iraqi premier was also doing something very important. He was reconciling with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. Or at least, he was trying to find common ground with his former allies, recently turned enemies. Muqtada quit the government this year.

This week, Muqtada called for a renewal of his truce with both American forces and those of the Iraqi government. It is a gesture of goodwill towards Maliki. Another six months of peace and quiet from the Mahdi Army, giving the prime minister more room to concentrate on other pressing issues, like the looming war between Turkey and Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. [complete article]

F.B.I. says guards killed 14 Iraqis without cause

Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case.

The F.B.I. investigation into the shootings in Baghdad is still under way, but the findings, which indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force, are already under review by the Justice Department.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to discuss the matter. [complete article]

Iraqis wasting an opportunity, U.S. officers say

Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government’s failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but “it’s unclear how long that window is going to be open.” [complete article]

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