By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2006 – Illegal armed militias are one of the biggest challenges facing stability efforts in Iraq, but they cannot be defeated by military efforts alone, two of the top U.S. officials who deal with Iraq said here yesterday. The only way to effectively deal with militias is to combine military efforts with serious political reconciliation, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, and David M. Satterfield, senior advisor to the secretary of state and coordinator for Iraq, said while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee.
"I think that militia units and militia organizations that are involved in death squads must be killed or captured," Abizaid said during questioning. "I believe that those militia forces that are willing to come into the process can come into the process of demobilization and disarmament, provided that we show a will to do that on the Iraqi governmental side. I think it is absolutely essential that there only be one security institution in Iraq, ultimately, and that be the Iraqi army and police forces."
The challenge of stopping illegal militias lies first with the Iraqi security forces, who must quell the violence rocking Iraq's streets, Satterfield said. But, he added, lasting stability will only be achieved through a political reconciliation that includes disarmament and demobilization of militias. The reintegration process for militias must include an amnesty program that gives members incentives for returning to normal society, he said.
To achieve true national reconciliation, the Iraqi government must prove to its security forces and its people that it is a non-sectarian entity committed to a peaceful Iraq, Abizaid and Satterfield agreed. Abizaid stressed that he believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a true patriot capable of uniting the country and ending the violence.
"I believe, contrary to what a lot of other people believe, that he is an Iraqi patriot, that he will lead the country, that he will take on the militias, that he will build an armed forces, that they will take the lead," Abizaid said.
Maliki has already shown willingness to confront the militias, particularly in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, Abizaid noted. He pointed out Maliki's swift response to the mass kidnappings in the Karrada district Nov. 14, when the government immediately ordered its armed forces into the area, released many of the people who were kidnapped, and arrested some perpetrators dressed in national police uniforms.
Maliki also has told his Ministry of Interior to clean up sectarian problems in the national police, and many units have been retrained and people dismissed as a result, Abizaid said.
Illegal militias need to be defeated so the Iraqi people can have confidence in their armed forces, Abizaid said. Right now, some Iraqis aren't convinced that the coalition wants the Iraqi forces in the lead, he said. "The key point is that people in Iraq must come to trust their armed forces and their national police over and above the militia units that are operating in and amongst them," he said.
Iraqi forces are responsible for disarming the militias, but coalition troops will engage anyone they encounter on patrol who is considered hostile and not a uniformed member of the security forces, Abizaid said.
Iraqi forces are capable of taking over the security for their own country, but the U.S. must invest more resources into military transition teams that work with Iraqi units, Abizaid said. The Army and Marine Corps have done a good job of developing transition teams with cultural backgrounds, but the teams need to be more robust in order to be effective, he said.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its popular support, and the problem now is mostly sectarian in nature, Abizaid and Satterfield said. Eliminating illegal militias is a huge step that needs to be taken in unifying the country and bringing lasting peace, they said.
"Confronting all of the militias, wherever they are engaged in violence, is an essential element here," Satterfield said. "It has to be pursued. Failure to do so will have consequences first and foremost on Prime Minister Maliki and his government, on their relevancy, on their credibility, on their ability to address a process of disintegration, which in the end challenges everything that we and Iraqis would define as success."
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