Shi’ite re­sis­tance to Sun­nis threat­ens progress of surge in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

The Iraqi gov­ern­ment is re­sist­ing U.S. ef­forts to in­cor­po­rate for­mer Sunni in­sur­gents into Iraqi se­cu­rity forces, threat­en­ing a strat­egy that helped make the surge a suc­cess thus far and could al­low U.S. forces to with­draw from Iraqi cities next year.

Fewer than 600 of the 103,000 Iraqis cur­rently ac­tive in U.S.sup­ported Sunni mili­tia groups have been ab­sorbed so far, said Colin H. Kahl of the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, a Wash­ing­ton think tank, cit­ing fig­ures pro­vided to him by the U.S. mil­i­tary dur­ing a re­cent trip to Iraq.

The Pen­tagon pro­vided slightly higher es­ti­mates Aug. 26.

Capt. Charles G. Calio, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, said in an e-mail that nearly 24,000 “Sons of Iraq” have found per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment in the past two years, but only 946 have en­tered the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces.

About 2,300 oth­ers have been vet­ted for pos­si­ble po­si­tions in the se­cu­rity forces, he said.

“We are com­mit­ted to the [Sons of Iraq] and an or­derly tran­si­tion for all of them,” Capt. Calio said. He called the pro­gram “a work in progress.”

Sunni groups known by names such as “Awak­en­ing Coun­cils” and “Sons of Iraq” have sided with U.S. troops to help push al Qaeda-linked ter­ror­ists un­der­ground or out of the coun­try al­to­gether.

The Pen­tagon says it wants 16,000 in­te­grated into Iraqi se­cu­rity forces by June.

Mr. Kahl — who also ad­vises pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sen. Barack Obama about Iraq — and other ex­perts warned that if the Sunni fight­ers are not brought into the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces, it risks slow­ing a po­ten­tial with­drawal of U.S. com­bat troops from Iraqi cities.

Dan Cur­fiss, pro­gram man­ager for Iraq at the Na­tional De­fense Uni­ver­sity´s Near East and South Asia Cen­ter, said that if the in­te­gra­tion fails, “You would have in ef­fect two armies” in the coun­try, and the militias “could very eas­ily re­turn to a rogue sta­tus.”

“[Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri] al-Ma­liki has no in­ter­est in in­te­grat­ing th­ese guys — none,” Mr. Kahl said. “He thinks they´re thugs; he thinks they´re hooli­gans [. . . ]. In fact, there´s some ev­i­dence that he´s try­ing to pick fights with them, hop­ing that they will start a fight that he can then turn around and fin­ish them.”

Sev­eral U.S. news or­ga­ni­za­tions re­ported two weeks ago that Iraqi se­cu­rity forces had or­ders to ar­rest or kill hun­dreds of Sunni group leaders.

Sam Parker, who helps run the Iraq pro­gram at the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace, said the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment is “slow-rolling” the process of in­te­grat­ing mem­bers of the Sunni groups and that it will not move for­ward “without more pres­sure [. . . ] from the high­est lev­els of the U.S. gov­ern­ment.”

“The [Sons of Iraq] will rightly con­clude that they’re not go­ing to get a place at the ta­ble, and go back to do­ing what they were do­ing be­fore,” Mr. Parker said. “Rather than try­ing to join the po­lit­i­cal process, they will try to un­der­mine it with vi­o­lence as part of the in­sur­gency.”

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion may not be in a good po­si­tion to ex­ert that pres­sure, an­a­lysts warn, since it is al­ready strug­gling to con­clude an agree­ment with the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment that will per­mit U.S. forces to re­main af­ter a U.N. man­date ex­pires Dec. 31.

The agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Iraqis, calls for all U.S. com­bat forces to leave Iraqi cities by next June and to leave the coun­try en­tirely by the end of 2011.

Re­cently re­tired U.S. Army coun­terin­sur­gency ex­pert Col. John A. Nagl, who trav­eled with Mr. Kahl to Iraq, partly at­trib­uted the slow in­te­gra­tion to bureau- cratic prob­lems.

“I´m sure that there is some sec­tar­i­an­ism in th­ese de­ci­sions, but I also am con­fi­dent that some of it is just in­ef­fi­cient bu­reau­cracy,” said Col. Nagl, the au­thor of sev­eral books on coun­terin­sur­gency, who helped write the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Coun­terin­sur­gency Field Man­ual pub­lished in De­cem­ber 2006.

Mr. Kahl also warned against a strat­egy of lim­it­ing in­te­gra­tion to Sunni leaders and plac­ing them in low-level jobs.

“Oh, sure, we´ll let that colonel in the [. . . ] Repub­li­can Guard into the Iraqi po­lice, but we´ll make him an en­listed beat cop,” he said, de­scrib­ing the at­ti­tude of some Bagh­dad of­fi­cials. “Do you know how low on the so­cial scale that is in Iraq and how hu­mil­i­at­ing this is?”

“You don´t have to be­lieve that 100,000 of th­ese guys are go­ing to turn back into in­sur­gents,” Mr. Kahl said. “If 5,000 of them do, that could be a big prob­lem.”

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