Militias and Terrorism; Terrorism and Militias
The news from Iraq in the New York Times focuses Monday on terrorism and militias. Edward Wong of the NYT surveys the persistence of Shiite and Kurdish paramilitaries. I was struck by the tone of resignation on the American side; they appear to have given up on disarming these militias, even though last June they were trying to close their offices and take away their weapons.
As someone who lived in Lebanon during part of the civil war, I have to say that the persistence of the militias (indeed, what appears to be a massive expansion of them) bodes ill for the future of Iraq. But the point that Kurds and Shiites make, that the US is unable to provide security, is also well taken. Based on Bosnia and other experiences, the US National Security Council estimated before the war that it would take 500,000 US troops to provide security to a country the size of Iraq. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz ridiculed this idea, but their notion of just sending 100,000 or so American troops (and then of abolishing the Iraqi army!) has resulted in the country being highly insecure. (The Americans who come back from Iraq and say things are just dandy are all embedded and don’t get out among the people much. Whenever I see reporters on television live from Baghdad, I hear machine gun fire in the background and occasionally explosions. I remember that sort of thing from Beirut and know exactly what it means about the state of “security.”)
Then Dexter Filkins reports that the US has captured a document purported to be written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to al-Qaeda who has been active in nothern Iraq, which proposes the instigation of an artificial Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq as a way of turning the Sunnis against the US. Some of the bombings and attacks already launched on Shiites, including the August 29 bombing of Najaf, may have been intended to help provoke a Shiite backlash against Sunnis. So far most Shiites have declined to take the bait.
It is in this context that I cautiously (caveat emptor!) transmit an item from az-Zaman, the Baghdad daily run by the Sunni liberal, Hasan al-Bazzaz. It comes ultimately via Deutsche Press Agentur, and alleges that Iraqi police in Fallujah have captured five men who say they are from the Badr Corps, the militia of the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and who admit to having engaged in bombings and other military actions against the Americans. This item fails the common sense test, since SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is allied with the United States; since very few Shiites have taken up arms against the US; and since a Shiite unit would find it difficult to operate in heavily Sunni Fallujah (who gives them a safe house? Food? Information? Shiites are not liked in those parts, and it would be easy for them to slip and give away their sect; even the exact form of prayer is slightly different). There are two possibilities, if the report is accurate. One is that these are Baathists who are attempting to drive a wedge between SCIRI and the US by claiming to be Badr Corps. The other is that this is a cell within the Badr Corps directed by hardline Revolutionary Guards in Iran, which is engaged in a rogue operation. (The Revolutionary Guards trained the Badr Corps when it was in exile in Iran during the Saddam period).
Meanwhile, the Washington Post profiles the situation in Fallujah more realistically, showing the ways that militantly anti-American Sunni groups are attempting to position themselves to take power when the US civil administration withdraws on June 30.