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Shiite Bloc Condemns U.S. Policy Of Recruiting Sunni Tribesmen

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a visit to Baghdad, announced that Britain would withdraw 1,000 troops by year's end, a nearly 20 percent decrease in forces and twice the number of troops previously expected to leave.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a visit to Baghdad, announced that Britain would withdraw 1,000 troops by year's end, a nearly 20 percent decrease in forces and twice the number of troops previously expected to leave. (By Peter Macdiarmid -- Getty Images)

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 2 -- The largest Shiite political coalition in Iraq demanded Tuesday that the U.S. military abandon its recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, saying some are members of "armed terrorist groups" and are engaged in killing, kidnapping and extortion under the guise of fighting the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the most direct rebuke to a policy that U.S. military officers hold up as one of their most important achievements over the past year.

U.S. forces have given wide support to thousands of Sunni tribesmen across the country who have pledged to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. U.S. officials describe the effort as promoting grass-roots reconciliation that brings disenfranchised Sunnis into the government and provides protection for their neighborhoods.

U.S. officials acknowledge that many of the recruits have been involved with various Sunni insurgent groups; expressions of antipathy toward the Iraqi security forces and government are common among them.

"We condemn and reject embracing those terrorist elements which committed the most hideous crimes against our people," the United Iraqi Alliance statement said. It also condemned "authorizing the groups to conduct security acts away from the jurisdiction of the government and without its knowledge."

The statement went on: "We demand that the American administration stop this adventure, which is rejected by all the sons of the people and its national political powers."

The U.S. military credits the partnerships with local Sunnis, a concept developed in Anbar province and replicated in many Sunni areas in and around Baghdad, as a primary factor in the declining violence over the past several months. In Washington on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, described these partnerships as a "success story" and said 1,700 volunteers from the town of Abu Ghraib graduated last week after a month of police academy training.

"Anbar now stands as an inspiring example to the rest of the country for what is possible, as citizens come together to reject extremist behavior," Odierno said.

But some Iraqi and U.S. officials have long expressed reservations about whether the experience in Anbar province, which is largely Sunni, could be repeated in areas with mixed populations, such as Baghdad.

"Now the problem is that the American Army has started to arm some Sunni groups . . . and give them salaries, and they've enabled them to control some mixed areas," Humam Hamoudi, a senior Shiite leader in the coalition, said in a recent interview. "This has provoked astonishment, rejection and rage."

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, said there are insufficient U.S. and Iraqi troops to defeat the extremists, so the local tribes provide an important supplement. He said the recruits should be accountable to the Iraqi security forces.

"At this particular moment, we need these tribes. It might be for a short period," he said in an interview. "I can't understand the fears. Frankly, it's people talking nonsense, that these tribes might turn into militiamen the next day and be a threat to the Shias and attack whomever."


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