9 years, 6 months ago
Because of the slow progress of reconciliation at the top echelons of government in Iraq, the strategy has had to rely on bottom up efforts. Maliki has claimed that Iraq is still capable of reconciliation, but it has been suggested that Maliki is himself in need of an awakening before he can lead the nation to reconciliation.
This bottom up strategy has involved groups of “concerned citizens” (and in some cases variants of this concept such as armed neighborhood watches or assistants to the Iraqi Police, such as in Fallujah). This strategy came under fire today by the French press.
“Tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you.” The US general is opening his proverbial chequebook to leaders of Iraq’s concerned citizens groups.
“Tell me how I can help you,” asks Major General Rick Lynch, commander of US-led forces in central Iraq.
US commanders are unashamedly buying the loyalty (italics mine) of Iraqi tribal leaders and junior officials, a strategy they trumpet as a major success but which critics fear will lead to hidden costs in terms of militia and sectarian strife.
These low-level Iraqi leaders from the Madain area south of Baghdad are meeting top US military brass for the second time in four days.
Their first gathering featured the overall commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus — proof that concerned citizens are now right at the forefront of the US war effort.
A Sunni sheikh who lost his son to an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber tells Lynch he needs more bodyguards as he has hardly left his house in three months for fear of attack. Others list money, drinkable water, more uniforms, more projects.
One mentions weapons, but the general insists: “I can give you money to work in terms of improving the area. What I cannot do — this is very important — is give you weapons.”
The gravity of the war council in a tent at the US forward operating base at Camp Assasssin is suspended for a few moments as one of the local Iraqi leaders says jokingly but knowingly: “Don’t worry! Weapons are cheap in Iraq.”
“That’s right, that’s exactly right,” laughs Lynch in reply.
But Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would not be laughing. While the US generals view the groups as a bulwark against extremism, Maliki and others steeped in the logic of sectarian conflict fear they are an armed Sunni opposition in the making.
His concern is not surprising — the bulk of US money and support for these groups is going to Sunnis, whose heartlands around the capital the military so desperately needs to turn around.
“Right now I’ve got 34 concerned citizen groups under contract and that is costing me 7.5 million dollars every 60-90 days,” Lynch tells AFP, adding that 25 groups are Sunni, nine Shiite …
“I now have more concerned citizens than coalition troops,” boasts Lynch, who reckons his present cast of more than 21,000 concerned citizens will “exponentially grow.”
Under the scheme, local people are allowed to arm themselves and are paid up to 300 dollars a month to handle their own security by manning checkpoints and patrolling, while the military receives tip offs on insurgents’ activities.
“They know that after you clear out the insurgents, infrastructure projects start coming,” says Lieutenant-Colonel John Kolasheski.
“People start to see the visible improvement then it becomes more difficult for extremists to get back in there because the people realise: ‘right now the coalition is focused on us making things better’.”
Lynch puts it to them more succinctly: “We can clear, then you can hold.”
Concerned citizens groups were born out of the everyday hell created by Al-Qaeda and warring militias and the Americans cleverly offered a positive alternative to fill that vacuum.
In what ends up being a fairly informative article on the strategy (not published here in its entirety), the article lapses into editorializing on the U.S. “unashamedly buying the loyalty of citizens.” This editorializing lacks any context whatsoever, and has no argument to support the seeming inference that there should be shame in such an approach.
We have gone on record numerous times casting our lot with payment for intelligence and other services, and on one specific occasion suggested that failure might await Operation Iraqi Freedom for refusal to remunerate our allies in Iraq.
The 20-year-old is part of a ragtag collection of former Sunni insurgents – some even from the al-Qaida ranks – who have thrown their support behind U.S.-led security forces under pacts of mutual convenience …
The Sunni militiamen have grown leery of al-Qaida in Iraq and its ambitions, including self-proclaimed aims of establishing an Islamic state. The Pentagon, in turn, has latched onto its most successful strategy in months: partnering with former extremists who have the local know-how to help root out al-Qaida in Iraq.
Abed … does not earn a salary for working with U.S. forces, and the military does not provide him with weapons, equipment or safe haven …
“(Al-Qaida) is trying to get me or my family. I’m constantly changing locations – not staying in one place longer than a few hours – and moving my children,