NYT fronts an article regarding nine Iraqi militia groups that have agreed to disband and help form new Iraqi security forces. Juan Cole is properly skeptical, noting the number of deals already struck to eliminate the Iraqi militias. What does this mean?
First, the militias that have been actively opposing the US and killing American soldiers are not part of the agreement. They’ll get to keep their weapons and their organization. Second, the militias that have agreed to disband have not actually agreed to disband. The Kurds are already opting out, as are some of the Shiite militias. Third, the groups that have agreed to disband have not agreed to disarm, meaning that all the militia members get to keep their AKs. Four, some parts of the militias are supposed to be folded into Iraqi army and police units, meaning that they’ll get to keep their organization and get legal sanction.
That’s the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff is that there is no way to enforce this agreement. The militias are still armed, and capable of resisting US efforts to make them disband. Since resistance apparently grants you immunity, there would seem to be some incentive to fight. Even if the militias do formally “disband”, they get to be part of the Iraqi security forces. Three guesses as to how effective a security force in which the primary loyalty still lies with militia captains is going to be.
One solution would be to go back in time and not disband the Iraqi Army. I hear that people in the Pentagon are working on that one. Other solutions are hard to come by. I’m starting to get the feeling that the administration is tiring of its new toy. Any project serious about building a capable, legitimate Iraqi state cannot tolerate militia control of the countryside. Without a monopoly on force, the state can’t function. Since even the US Army is reluctant to take on militias in Sadr City and Falluja, I’m not overly optimistic about the chances that cobbled together Iraqi forces will be able to enforce order. Instead, we see the “Afghanization” of Iraq.
Short term, not so much of a problem. Americans who don’t go into dangerous areas run a lower risk of getting killed, which is a good thing. Long term, Iraq falls apart, and the entire operation turns into a bigger disaster than it already is.
Three guesses as to whether the administration is thinking short term or long term on this one. The first two guesses don’t count.