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Iraq SCIRI Leader Calls for Local 'Self-Defense'

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of SCIRI, Iraq’s largest political party and the leader of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), put forward a four-step plan to secure Iraq at the same time that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were putting forward the new U.S.-Iraqi plan for Baghdad security. As reported in the Washington Post, Hakim’s four action points were as follows:

(1) Continue to press the prime minister’s reconciliation plan, which gives amnesty to both Sunni and Shia militants who lay down their arms, and which has been greeted positively by more than 20 Sunni insurgent factions;
(2) “strengthen the government and its agenda for fighting terrorism”;
(3) rebuild the holy shrine in Samarra which was destroyed Feb. 22 by an al-Qaeda bombing; and
(4) help neighborhoods develop their own local defense committees.

It is the last suggestion that concerns many, given the many well-substantiated allegations that Shia militias have been engaging in vigilante violence against Sunni insurgents and at times have attacked Sunni civilians. SCIRI’s own militia, the Badr Army, has not been blamed for nearly as much violence recently as the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr. Sadr’s faction is also formally within the UIA, although Sadr and Hakim are political adversaries. Yet Badr was widely blamed for ‘death squad’ killings in the previous government when a member of SCIRI was in charge of the interior ministry.

The second point about strengthening “the government and its agenda” may be a reference to Hakim’s oft-repeated argument that Iraqi security forces should have more responsibility, and that American forces are holding Iraqi forces back too much. Hakim has consistently supported the U.S. presence in Iraq as necessary for security, but has often criticized what he has called “interference” in Iraqi operations. Last Friday, the New York Times reported that Hakim repeated the refrain that Iraqi troops should have a greater role at the same time that the president and prime minister were talking of shifting U.S. troops to Baghdad. But this criticism by Hakim is not new, and was reported by ThreatsWatch in a translation of comments from an Arab newspaper on July 7.

Yet concomitant with Hakim’s remarks, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn is reporting that Iraqi troops in Baghdad are handing security back over to American troops, having received security responsibility previously. While noting that this is true of multiple areas of the city, the article focuses on the specific example of the west Baghdad area of ‘Amariya which had been a prosperous area prior to the rise in violence. It quotes a resident as saying that when Iraqi forces took over, there were at first lots of patrols and things were more secure, but after several days the patrols dropped off and the violence returned.

ThreatsWatch has reported in a previous report that President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki have agreed to realign U.S. troops away from the provinces to focus more on the capital. Our previous report that Iraqi troops were taking over more security in the southern city of Nasiriya and the northern city of Mosul, as well as this report, are consistent with this plan.

The positions of Maliki and Hakim on these issues are not necessarily in absolute contradiction; the New York Times report on Maliki’s visit with President Bush noted several demands that the prime minister would likely make, and one key one was “more autonomy for Iraqi forces.” Maliki may want more U.S. forces in Baghdad and more independent Iraqi operations, and the troop realignment does increase Iraqi control in the provinces.

Yet Sunnis, who from the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom were opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq, have come to view the U.S. presence as a necessary control on Iraq’s Shia-dominated regular security forces and police, both of which, the latter especially, have been accused by Sunnis of abuses.