More controversially, Petraeus defended his decision to arm and equip Sunni tribal fighters vowing to go after al-Qaeda. In recent weeks, the Maliki government has expressed concern that Petraeus's approach both undercuts the effort to build an Iraqi Army and risks creating a new series of quasi-official Sunni militias. But Petraeus, who formerly helmed the U.S. training effort in Iraq, portrayed the militiamen as potential Army recruits:
"In Anbar Province tribes have always been important. You can't ignore the tribes, they are of enormous importance. If you have a police support unit, you put them through a 40-hour course we call them police auxiliary in the US. You want to tie them in. Get them on the payroll. Then you can get them to enlist in the army. Those are working. They swear allegiance to Iraq. Those oaths mean something to people who put premium on honour."
To date, many militiamen have enlisted in the Iraqi security forces, but the result has often been increasing sectarianism within the Army and police, rather than the development of a national espirit d'corps. It may be that the "photograph" Crocker and Petraeus provide in September will be of two missions -- fighting al-Qaeda and supporting national unity -- that conflict with each other.