By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 9, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 -- Iraqi and U.S. forces should not launch a military offensive against the militias -- most of them Shiite -- that are a major source of turmoil in Iraq, but should instead rely on nonviolent steps to bring militiamen into the political fold, according to an Iraqi report that draws largely on the views of prominent Shiite politicians.
"In the short-term at least, there can be no military offensive against the militias. Military confrontation, in the current climate, will only strengthen their appeal and swell their ranks," the Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research concludes.
The institute said the 18-page report, "Dismantling Iraq's Militias," was based on a round-table discussion by six Shiite politicians, two Kurds and a Sunni Arab. Government officials said Thursday it would be considered in setting policy, but some here saw it as reflecting the private thinking of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as more U.S. troops arrive to try to end the violence.
Maliki has publicly declared that the joint effort will target all lawbreakers equally, regardless of sectarian affiliation. But late last year, his advisers said the prime minister was urging the Americans to combat Sunni groups while Iraqi forces focused on Shiite militias.
"The tense situation between the Mahdi Army militia and the U.S. military means that it would be unwise for multinational forces to go into Shia strongholds at this stage," the report says. The Mahdi Army is led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a key Maliki supporter.
Many Iraqi officials say previous Baghdad security plans failed because Maliki did not take a tough stance against that militia.
"I don't want to see the prime minister again violating his commitment," said Tariq al-Hashemi, an Iraqi vice president who leads the most powerful Sunni Arab party. The report's goals would be a "complete deviation of what has been agreed upon from the beginning by the political entities," he said in an interview. "I don't support the theme that the militias could be accommodated or be resolved by the political process," he added.
The report reflects "the government's point of view," said Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd and a legislator who was a member of the round table. "This prime minister won't go against Sadr or the Mahdi Army. Those people are his supporters." Like other participants, Othman had not been given the finished report and commented based on a reporter's description.
Ahmed Shames, a member of Maliki's media office who was a co-author of the report, said in an interview that it will be widely read in the government, but "it does not mean the government will follow these recommendations."
Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Maliki and one of the politicians involved in the discussions, said the report emerged from frank discussion and did not necessarily represent the prime minister's views. Rikabi reiterated that Maliki will use force against anyone regardless of sect if political solutions are not possible.
The only Sunni Arab in the round table, Mithal al-Alusi, said he was unaware of the report's publication and angered that his name was attached to a document that did not represent his views. "The Dawa party, they organized this meeting in the name of the Baghdad Institute," Alusi said, referring to Maliki's political party. "More than one [participant], not just me, said there is no place for a political solution for killers, militias and terrorists."
The report outlines a three-phase approach to solving Iraq's militia problem. The short-term goal, over a period of about two years, is to use government forces for "defensive military campaigns" to break the cycle of violence in Baghdad. This will deprive militias of their role of protecting embattled neighborhoods, the report says. The second phase would be provision of such services as clearing sewers and cleaning and paving streets. The final step would be integration of some militiamen into the security forces or civil service in a way that holds their political patrons accountable for any crimes they commit.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Naseer Mehdawi contributed to this report.