For a while, part of the administration's war policy in Iraq was disarming sectarian militias. Now, U.S. forces are trying a different tack -- the opposite tack
The worst month of Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl's deployment in western Baghdad was finally drawing to a close. The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq had unleashed bombings that killed 14 of his soldiers in May, a shocking escalation of violence for a battalion that had lost three soldiers in the previous six months while patrolling the Sunni enclave of Amiriyah. On top of that, the 41-year-old battalion commander was doubled up with a stomach flu when, late on May 29, he received a cellphone call that would change everything.
"We're going after al-Qaeda," a leading local imam said, Kuehl recalled. "What we want you to do is stay out of the way."
"Sheik, I can't do that. I can't just leave Amiriyah and let you go at it."
"Well, we're going to go."
The week that followed revolutionized Kuehl's approach to fighting the insurgency and serves as a vivid example of a risky, and expanding, new American strategy of looking beyond the Iraqi police and army for help in controlling violent neighborhoods.
Apparently, U.S. forces have not only aligned themselves with dozens of Sunni militiamen, we're also now cooperating with sectarian militias, working outside the Iraqi security forces, that include insurgents that have attacked Americans in the past. What's more, we're allowing them to procure weapons and we're granting them the power to arrest other Iraqis.
"We have made a deal with the devil," said an intelligence officer in the battalion.
The dynamic is not without complications. Joshua Partlow's report explained
that "fighters on both sides appeared nearly identical," using the same weapons and wearing similar clothes. "Now we've got kind of a mess on our hands," a leader of a U.S. Stryker team remembered thinking. "Because we've got a lot of armed guys running all over the place, and it's making it very hard for us to identify which side is which."
Might these militias turn on the U.S. sometime soon? No one knows. Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, a Sunni militia leader said, "Let's be honest, the enemy now is not the Americans, for the time being
." (emphasis added)
What could possibly go wrong?