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May 19, 2007

'Welcome To Teheran'

Topics: Iraq

Captain Ed addresses The Guardian's "scathing report on the British efforts in southern Iraq and the resultant influence of Iran in the Shi'ite militias vying to fill the power vacuum around Basra":

It demonstrates the futility of the approach used by the British in engaging militias instead of marginalizing and defeating them, as even the Iraqi commanders on the ground explain:
The article and Ed's commentary both have the same message: engaging militias as the British did in Basra instead of marginalizing and defeating them was a big mistake; it legitimized them.

The British should have stamped out the militias, as the U.S. should have North of Basra:

Now what we have is all of the makings of a real civil war of the kind we see in Gaza now. We will have state-armed groups organizing into armies that will control territories and conduct operations against each other as soon as the British leave. With Teheran pulling the strings, the Shi'ite south could erupt into a new kind of internecine war that could undermine the Shi'ites in the national government.
And this didn't just happen over night. The WaPo reported on the Shiite and Kurdish militias back in August 2005:

... often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.

... While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

... "Here's the problem," said Majid Sari, an adviser in the Iraqi Defense Ministry in Basra, who travels with a security detail of 25 handpicked Iraqi soldiers. Referring to the militias, he said, "They're taking money from the state, they're taking clothes from the state, they're taking vehicles from the state, but their loyalty is to the parties." Whoever disagrees, he said, "the next day you'll find them dead in the street."

Here we are in May 2007 and the only thing that's changed is that it's gotten worse. Stamping out the militias in the first place would have gone a long way towards reducing the problem before it became an epidemic. Now the problem is acute, and as an opinion piece in The International Herald Tribune (from The Boston Globe) points out, the militias must be stamped out:
... as the region and the international community increase their support for Iraq, the greater burden falls on the Iraqi government to implement the hard steps necessary for security and political reconciliation.

Critical among these is the revision of the Constitution to provide a framework for greater integration of Iraq's Sunni population into the political process. Complementing this must be a serious effort to reverse the de-Baathification process that has fueled much of the rejectionism among the Sunnis, and deprived Iraq's bureaucracy of the talent needed for the effective functioning of the civil service.

Closely linked with this is the revival of the Iraqi Army, an institution that has historically constituted a pillar of unity among Iraq's various ethnic groups.

The militias that now ravage innocent populations on all sides of the sectarian divide must be dismantled and integrated into the ranks of Iraq's regular security forces.

The urgency of this objective cannot be emphasized enough; there can be no future for Iraq if the government's monopoly on the use of force is challenged by sub-state entities that undermine the very foundations of the state. All of this would pave the way for launching a national reconciliation process that would ensure that Iraq's politics are organized around a solid framework of national unity, rather than on the shaky foundations of sectarianism.

The deliberations of the ministerial conference at Sharm El-Sheikh reflected a general consensus regarding these objectives. They also generally reflect the benchmarks the United States itself has set for the Maliki government.

If Iraq is to avoid the dangerous slide toward civil war, the Iraqi government must demonstrate a commitment to place Iraq firmly on the path of reconciliation, rather than remain beholden to the sectarian agendas that threaten Iraq's very unity.

There can be no mistake: A failed state in Iraq will present the region - and the world - with a dire security challenge for decades to come.

We can only hope that Iraq's leadership AND the U.S. will finally be willing to do what has to be done. As the opinion piece suggests, the consequences of failing to do so are disastrous for not only the region, but much the world as well.

Posted by Richard at May 19, 2007 2:09 PM

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