RAMADI — Reports of the setting up of U.S.-backed Sunni militias have brought new uncertainty to deepening chaos within Iraq.
Some Sunni leaders from the troubled al-Anbar province west of Baghdad recently met away from their tribes to set up new militias, according to local reports.
These new armed groups have received early praise from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki and U.S. officials. The United States had earlier called for the disarming of all militias for the sake of social peace and reconciliation, but that policy has clearly changed. The occupation forces now back both Shia and Sunni militias in different areas of the country.
These new groups are drawing strong condemnation from other Sunni tribal chiefs.
“They are a group of thieves who are arming thieves, and this is something dangerous and nasty,” Sheikh Sa’adoon, chief of a large Sunni tribe near Khaldiyah city in al-Anbar told IPS. “This only means we will have more disturbances here, and it could create local civil war.”
Another tribal leader in the area, speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity, said “they are only doing this in order to kill as many Sunnis as possible, and this time with Sunni hands.”
He said true tribal leaders should lead any militias they form, rather than issue orders from the Green Zone, the U.S. and Iraqi government enclave in Baghdad.
“Leaders should lead their soldiers on the battlefield, but those so-called sheikhs are well protected behind concrete walls inside the dirty zone (green zone),” he said. “How can they win a battle by remote control?”
The controversial move appears to have brought widespread condemnation also from academics, Iraqi military leaders, and even Shia politicians. “It is a new way of making millions of dollars,” a professor at al-Anbar University in Ramadi told IPS.
Brigadier-General Jassim Rashid al-Dulaimi from the new Iraqi Army in Anbar province told IPS: “I cannot imagine 30,000 more guns in the Iraqi field. I hope they will reject the idea. Iraq needs more engineers and clean politicians to solve the dilemma of the existing militias rather than recruiting new ones to kill more Iraqis. The idea sounds to me as turning the country into a mercenary recruitment centre.”
Shia leader Jaafar al-Assadi said the move will bring more violence. “Al-Anbar will fight even more now with the guns given to those fools,” he told IPS. “They are surely going to sell their weapons to the terrorists or surrender to them soon or later.”
Some of these group leaders have distanced themselves from the new militias. Sheikh Hamid Muhanna, chief of the large tribe al-Bu Alwan appeared on al-Jazeera denying the creation of such militia. He said he and the other sheikhs are in control of their tribes, and those who met al-Maliki speak for themselves only.
The main Sunni religious group, the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), remains staunchly opposed to any continuance to the occupation.
“It is all in the hands of the Americans, we are trying to cover the sun with a piece of glass,” Sheikh Ahmed from AMS told IPS in Baghdad. “The occupation power is too strong for any player to make a major change, and so we should believe in our own capabilities without dreaming of useful solutions from our enemy.”
The Association has consistently refused to take part in Iraqi politics under U.S. occupation.
The new militias are riding the back of what is controversially referred to as federalism, under which each group appears headed its own way.
Thafir al-Ani, official spokesman for al-Tawafuq, a major Sunni parliamentary group, resigned as chairman of a constitution committee last week. “I would have had to take part in dividing Iraq under the flag of federalism, which would have put a mark in my history as one of those who established the dividing of my country,” he said.
The solutions being put forth are all driven by personal and sectarian interests, and fail to consider what is best for the country, Maki al-Nazzal, political analyst from Fallujah told IPS.
“The change that could take place is an Iraqi people’s ‘Orange revolution’, which could occur with all Iraqis, regardless of their ID information,” al-Nazzal said. “But that would be very dangerous without international protection to the people who would do it because Iraqi rulers today, together with the U.S. Army, could massacre demonstrators.”
The ‘Orange revolution’ was the name given to public protests across Ukraine in November 2004 against a government and an election seen as illegitimate. The revolution was widely believed to have had U.S. support.
A member of an Iraqi Human Rights non-governmental organisation who asked to be identified as Ibrahim said the United Nations must take a stronger stand in Iraq.
“The international community must take its real role in the country,” he told IPS. “UNAMI’s (UN Assistance Mission for Iraq) hands are tied, and they are only monitoring the disastrous situation without doing anything to help stop the bleeding of Iraq.”