By Joshua Partlow and Zaid Sabah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 23, 2007
BAGHDAD, Dec. 22 -- Members of a U.S.-funded volunteer security force in western Baghdad on Saturday threatened to abandon their partnership with the American military after an explosion killed four of their men, a blast they blamed on Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces, according to two volunteer leaders in the area.
The predominantly Sunni security volunteers were outraged that the bombing took place so close to an Iraqi army checkpoint in the Ghazaliyah area. Following the attack, which also injured six people, a 325-member brigade of the Ghazaliyah Guardians was considering going after Shiite militias on their own terms, the two leaders said.
"Now all of our men have withdrawn from the area and we are going back like before to fight the militias that infiltrated the Iraqi army," said a deputy commander in the organization who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "The people here have completely lost their confidence with the Iraqi army."
The security volunteers said they wanted the U.S. military to give them more authority to pursue and arrest people they deemed criminals in their neighborhoods. "Or else we will go back to military action to defend our families, and fight any military force that tries to enter Ghazaliyah," said Mazin al-Dulaimi, a member of the Guardians.
The sentiments of the volunteers, who have played an important role in combating the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, illustrate increasing tensions over how these groups will be deployed, particularly in Baghdad's volatile neighborhoods.
U.S. military commanders consider the more than 60,000 security volunteers across the country, most of whom are paid $300 a month under U.S. contracts, to be crucial in defusing the insurgency and decreasing violence. But Iraq's Shiite-led government has grown more vocal in its concern about the groups, often referred to as "awakening councils." Iraqi officials worry they could undermine the work of the country's security forces. The Interior Ministry has been slow to take the volunteers into the police force but says it has plans to include as many as 10,000 of them eventually.
"We reject that the awakening groups turn into a military organization. We have only two unified military organizations, that is the Interior and the Defense" ministries, said Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim at a news conference Saturday in Baghdad. "Everyone should know that there will not be a third organization or a third power."
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steven Stover, said American units in Ghazaliyah had received no reports of such a bombing in the neighborhood Saturday. The Associated Press reported a suicide car bomb in Ghazaliyah near an Iraqi army checkpoint, citing Iraqi police sources.
Other Sunni tribal leaders distanced themselves from the Ghazaliyah Guardians, saying they were primarily loyal to the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political group that is not part of the awakening council structure.
"Those people are trying to start trouble to regain their image with the Iraqi street," said Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, a leader of a prominent tribe in western Anbar province. "The awakening councils we are going to make are going to be supportive of the government."
In a separate development Saturday, Turkish aircraft bombed the rugged terrain in northern Iraq, part of an ongoing campaign to combat Kurdish separatist guerrillas who take refuge in the mountains. A spokesman for Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq, Jabar Yawar, said that helicopters bombed a number of locations but that no casualties were reported. The Turkish military said in a statement that the bombing lasted about a half-hour and was followed by shelling from inside Turkey, according to the AP.
Also, one U.S. soldier was killed and 11 others were wounded when two roadside bombs exploded near their vehicles in the north Friday, the U.S. military said.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.