Another Misguided Effort in Iraq

From one mistake to another, BushCo’s entire modus operandi. In this case and, remarkably, in so many others, no one seems particularly bothered that virtually endless death and mayhem are involved.

A U.S.-backed plan for Sunni neighborhood guards is tested
By James Glanz and Stephen Farrell
Published: August 18, 2007

BAGHDAD: The United States is pressing ahead with an American-financed effort to recruit and pay local Sunni Arabs to protect neighborhoods in districts scattered across a wide swath of central Iraq.

The initiative has generated deep skepticism in some members of the Shiite-led Iraqi government, who fear that the strategy could intensify the already intense sectarian warfare here.

The American military says it is not arming the new forces, at least initially, but in some areas, tribal groups bring their own weapons.

On Saturday, in the ravaged Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliya, freshly recruited members of the local force were on display in crisp new cargo pants and flak jackets during a visit by the top American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the American ambassador, Ryan Crocker. Both made it clear that the United States sees the creation of the so-called Guardian forces as a major new initiative to improve security on the streets of Iraq.

The effort is loosely based on successes the United States has had in Anbar, the desert province where Sunni tribes have been paid to ally themselves with American-led multinational forces in fighting insurgent groups. In an interview in the back of a tiny shop in Ghazaliya, Petraeus said that the United States was pressing to set up Guardian forces in places where the tribes were not strong or prevalent enough to serve as a backbone of the program.

Iraqi streets are both protected and terrorized by militias of all kinds, leaving the United States open to criticism that it could simply be creating a fighting force whose loyalty to the legitimate government is open to question.

Some of the existing militias are loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, some to other Shiite political groups and many to no one but local commanders. At the same time, the Sunni tribes have armed wings, and a wide spectrum of insurgent groups and criminal gangs also wield the power of the gun.

The Guardians could also be seen as natural targets for some Shiite militias, potentially generating violence even as they try to tamp it down.

Asked whether he supported the Guardian program, whether he thought it should be put in place countrywide and whether he thought it could improve security, Petraeus replied, “Yes, yes and yes.”

But he said that the effort would have to be tailored to individual neighborhoods.

Variants of such forces have turned up in Amiriya and Abu Ghraib neighborhoods in western Baghdad, in Diyala Province in the east, in Falluja in Anbar Province and elsewhere. On Saturday, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, reviewed a similar force in Yusufiya, in a deadly region just south of the capital.

Even though the initiative could be seen as a sign of mistrust for the Iraqi police forces, Petraeus said it was supported by high-ranking members of the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The police are heavily infiltrated by members of Shiite militias that are accused of sowing terror among Sunnis in Baghdad.

But Iraq’s deputy national security adviser and a member of its reconciliation council, Safa al-Sheik, said that the Iraqi government had not been involved when the Americans began the program and it was divided on it now. “Some of the people think it is arming the Sunnis,” Sheik said. “They believe it will be preparation for civil war.”

Partly for those reasons, he said, the prime minister generally favors the program but is not ready to endorse it.

Petraeus said that the Guardians had not so far been issued arms, but were to phone Iraqi and American security forces if problems turned up. Although American officers in Ghazaliya repeatedly referred to the Guardians as “volunteers,” once the Guardians sign a contract pledging allegiance to the Iraqi government they are in fact paid, with American taxpayer money. The amount is that of an Iraqi Army soldier of equivalent responsibility.

Read it here.

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