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It is time to confront the Iraqi militias
Posted by: McQ on Friday, October 06, 2006

From Sen. John Warner today:
The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned Thursday that the situation in Iraq was “drifting sideways” and said that the United States should consider a “change of course” if violence did not diminish soon.

The chairman, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, expressed particular concern that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had not moved decisively against sectarian militias.

“In two or three months if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and this level of violence is not under control, I think it’s a responsibility of our government to determine: Is there a change of course we should take?” Senator Warner said.

He did not specify what shift might be necessary in Iraq, but he said that the American military had done what it could to stabilize Iraq and that no policy options should be taken “off the table.” He was speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference after returning from a Middle East trip that included a one-day visit to Baghdad.
I have to say I agree. I've not been at all impressed with the government of Iraq's seeming avoidance of that issue. It is, in my estimation, the main problem to be confronted to lessen and, hopefully, stop the sectarian violence in Iraq.

That being said, it's not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. There are a number of things which could happen if the government moved decisively to address the militia problem and stand them down.

A) Success. Rather than confront a government that, for the most part, is popular, militias backdown, disarm and disband.

Benefit: Enhances the power and legitimacy of the government, would most likely ensure a democratic Iraq and would obviously stop the majority of the sectarian violence.

Probability: Not very likely given the level of violence and the agendas and personalities at play here.

B) Failure. In effect, a confrontation between government and militias which escalates into violence would be a defacto civil war. If the militias refuse to disarm and disband, the government would have no choice but to go after the leaders, such as Muqtada al-Sadr, and that could lead to increased violence throughout Iraq (and not just confined to Baghdad). That sort of escalation in violence might also effect the loyalty of Iraqi Security Forces causing them to have to choose between enforcing the governments dictates or siding with their particular faction.

The end-state of that particular scenario isn't very pretty and might see Iraq splitting into three separate entities with the collapse of the central government.

Benefit: None that I can see. It would be a failure all the way around.

Probability: Unknown, but, given what I've read about it all, more of a probability than "A".

C) Mixed success. An eventual confrontation with the militias which sees some success against the weaker ones, but the stronger ones still resist. Here, given that the majority of Iraqis want the militias disarmed according to a recent poll, perhaps popular pressure can then begin to work on the stronger militias. Additionally, ISF assets could begin to displace militia assets (who, in some places, have brought the only peace some sectors have seen) and demonstrate the government's ability to keep the peace. In the meantime, the government keeps the pressure on these militias leading to an eventual stand-down of their forces.

Benefit: Lessening of sectarian violence, enhancing of governmental power and prestige, and, eventually, the elimination of militias and the emergance a strong central government.

Probability: Again, unknown, but the most likely scenario (since stark success or failure are rarely outcomes of this sort of action). The important thing in this scenario is for the government take decisive action fairly quickly and that the ISF remain loyal to the government during that action. I believe if those two things happen they can prevail over the militias eventually.

D) Status quo. Continue to do what is being done. Do not confront the militias, try to keep a lid on Baghdad and try to finish training up the ISF and letting the government "mature".

Benefit: Not much. In fact, in my estimation, a recipe for failure. Everyday the militias are allowed to continue to exist unmolested and the violence persists, governmental legitimacy is lessoned in the eyes of the people. One of the most important assets any government has is the people's belief in its legitimacy. They'll suffer quite a bit if they perceive their government as legitimate and working to benefit them and bring peace. But when a competing power is left to exist and even grow stronger, loyalties may begin to shift.

This government can't afford for that to happen.

Probability. Obviously possible (in fact, the current state of affairs), but not something the US should sanction or encourage.

In fact, and this is why I agree with Warner, we must try to force the government to confront the militias and the sooner the better. Yes, we (and they) risk failure. But then the status quo would appear to guarantee failure. So confronting them is a risk we, and they, must be willing to take ... and soon.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Good thing they are planning, adjusting their plans, to try and deal with this violence.
News Release
For Immediate Release October 2, 2006

The following is a joint statement by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) Commanding General George W. Casey, Jr.

Today Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki—-accompanied by all the key Arab Shiite and Sunni leaders or their authoritative representatives—announced a new four-point plan aimed at uniting Shiite and Sunni parties to reduce and ultimately stop sectarian violence. This agreement was the result of two days of frank and intense discussions and negotiation. This is a significant step in the right direction and shows that the Iraqi leaders want their country to succeed and are responding to the wishes their people for security. Now begins the hard work of implementing the plan. We congratulate Prime Minister Maliki and other Iraqi leaders for this important initiative, and assure them of US support.

May God bless the people of Iraq.,,7374-2387630,00.html
Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, whose previous reconciliation attempts are regarded as failures, announced a four-point plan based on neighbourhood committees to report on sectarian militias and government security forces. But the powers of the committees and the size of the areas they would cover are as yet unclear.

The Iraqi parliament is increasingly riven by sectarian tensions, with Sunnis accusing the dominant Shia parties of allowing their powerful militias — many of whom serve in the Army — to act as death squads. Many Shia politicians accuse their Sunni colleagues of being in league with Sunni insurgents and terrorists. The new deal, which included forming a central oversight committee monthly reviews and media monitoring to tackle sectarian bias, was hailed by American officials, who have seen little progress since the first permanent government after the invasion took power in Iraq in the spring.
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://
A bit like the Clinton terrorism plans, Keith ... time to quit planning and start executing.

On a related note:
The decision to pull an Iraqi police brigade off the streets for intensive retraining is part of the Iraqi government’s overall reform plan and will improve the professionalism and confidence within the national police, the U.S. general in charge of training Iraqi police said today.

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced Oct. 3 that the 8th Brigade, 2nd National Police, was being recalled to go through intensive training in anti-militia and anti-sectarian violence operations, due to poor performance and possible complicity with sectarian violence.
Written By: McQ
The problem of course is that different elements of the Iraqi government support these militias, if not openly, and while they could certainly gain a majority vote for cracking down on the minority supported militias, the end result of that would simply be large unopposed Shiite militias who would continue to do what they have been doing, killing anyone they want.

We might hear rhetoric, by I seriously doubt we will ever see any action by this Iraqi government to send troops to confront Shiite militias, especially since these troops and the Shiite militias are often one and the same.

"The good lord says he can get me out of this one, but he’s pretty sure..."

Written By: CaptinSarcastic
URL: http://
The problem of course is that different elements of the Iraqi government support these militias, if not openly, and while they could certainly gain a majority vote for cracking down on the minority supported militias, the end result of that would simply be large unopposed Shiite militias who would continue to do what they have been doing, killing anyone they want.
That’s the point I’m getting at. Time to make continued help in neutralizing what they’re doing now contingent upon the government actually confronting the problem.

Part of that confrontation would entail identifying those working within the government and supporting the militias and neutralizing their effect.

The status quo is obviously unacceptable. That’s why I agree with Warner ... the US role is to force that confrontation as soon as possible as the risk is acceptable and it is something which must be done to stabilize Iraq and give it’s government legitimacy. It actually would make our job easier and probably make our time shorter.
Written By: McQ
That’s the point I’m getting at. Time to make continued help in neutralizing what they’re doing now contingent upon the government actually confronting the problem.
Right. This government needs to take control of the situation, and they need to gain the respect of those who would take up arms against them. Simply proving themselves capable of doing it will go a long way toward squelching the violence. The vast majority of the population wants them to do it, and it’s time they did. It’s time to kick the baby birds out of the nest and make them fly.
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
I say the Militia problem will sort itself out...Iraq is a quagmire. Soon the militias will realize this and redeploy.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
It will be very interesting to see this play out. But one interesting question will be to figure out if the plan is working. When an Iraqi army unit attacks a militia or police unit, how can we know that the Army unit is loyal to the government as a whole, as opposed to a faction within it?

I think that the following constitutes reasonable metrics of success:

formation and deployment of units made up of individuals from various sects and from different areas within the country.

willingness of these units to engage in combat against Iraqis.

decline in murder rate.

Written By: Francis
URL: http://
The war is over. Bush said so in 2003. Declare victory and come home.
Written By: william
URL: http://
I swore off reading blogs yesterday, but I couldn’t resist the topic of ’what to do aabout Iraq;.
I read this, and I don’t get it.
(Enter your sarcastic retorts here:———)

All this, in some variation, has been debated on the floor of the House, in op.ed. pieces and CNN interviews. I was hoping you guys would come to some decision and start lobbying your Congressmen.
There have been hints (Kissinger’s visits to the WH, the Baker commission to prepare and Iraq report, etc.) that the acministration is, at last, preparing to make a shift. Maybe it’s waiting until after the election.
Maybe you’re waiting for a sign from Washington, too?
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
william, try actually listening to the speech and not getting your information and basing your judgements on a single banner.
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
Based on what I’m reading in Iraqi blogs Maliki isn’t seen as neutral with respect to the militias. He’s seen as owing his position to and, consequently, being a creature of Moqtada al-Sadr. I don’t know whether that’s a fair assessment but that’s the perception.

The U. S. is also seen as taking sides in favor of the Shi’ites. To a certain degree that’s inevitable because the triumph of the Shi’ite majority means they hold more power. But the U. S. is seen as more than willing to take on Sunni militias and reluctant to take on Shi’ite militias.
Written By: Dave Schuler
Eliminating the militias cannot and will not succeed before the declaration of a truce between the US Army and the Sunni insurgents.

Logic train is very simple:

a) Sunni insurgents will never surrender when surrender conists of military and political annihilation at the hands of the US army. They will also not surrender when it means giving up their announced and declared goal: the depature of US forces from Iraq.

Now, the above might not be true if we could muster sufficient forces and force to force the Sunni insurgents to surrender, but after three years it is clear that we can’t. Not with any of the current or politically realistic plans.

b). alongside of what we can’t do with a): we also can’t b) protect Shiite civilians from the Sunni insurgents. That’s why the Shiite death squads arose in the first place. Neither us nor the Iraqi government, or the parts of it that want to end the Shiite death sqauds, will be able to do so while the Sunni insurgents continue to catalyze said Shiite death squads.

c). It’s not as if the Shiite governemnt can root out the parts of its own government that support the death squads. This is a fantasy. The Shiite death squads boost the power of the Shiite parliamentarians. There is no parliamentary majority without the militias/death squads. The only genuinely anti-militia party in the business is Alawi’s party (you might also count the Kurds, in the sense that the Kurdish militias are not contributing to the problem, directly).

That’s about 20% of the parliament.

It’s not happening. Absent a truce. Trying to get the government to stop their own militias in the current environment is like trying to row upwards a waterfall.
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
There are two reasons this should not happen:

1. There is a practical need for the militias. The Iraqis need the Shia militias in play for a while longer. They provide the impetus to get the Sunni negotiating a truce.

To break an insurgency requires destroying the will of the insurgent population. This is done by murdering those civillians acting to support insurgents, showing the insurgent fighters to be useless protection and making legitimate government seem that much more worthwhile. Typically this murdering is done with the tacit approval or direct involvment of the government - Brits letting Malays run amok, Cowboys going at the Indians, Stalin moving 3/4 of all Chechyans a couple of 1000 miles north.

Unfortunately for the Iraqis this war is being fought in alliance with America, who are great providers of the tools of war, but unable to stomach any blood. To allow the Republicans to get good PR to be re-elected and have America stay as an ally, the Iraqis need to keep a lid on the violence. This means that they cannot do the required and crush the Sunni population officially, they have to get it done on the side. They need the militia to win for them and then after the militia have massacred a few thousand the government can step up and offer a great deal of protection* to the surviving Sunni.

Only after a truce has come into effect can there be any move to confront and disarm the militias.

* government acting as a protection racket.

2. How? It would require disarming the entire populace, knowing that many of the people you disarm are going to be massacred by the Sunni militia and Al Qaeda. That is not going to be popular or good.
Written By: unaha-closp

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