Global Policy Forum

Nine Iraqi Militias to Disband


By Jim Krane

Globe and Mail
June 7, 2004

Nine major political parties agreed Monday to disband their militias, the interim prime minister said, although radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's fighters did not join the agreement. In the southern city of Kufa, explosions rocked the compound surrounding the mosque after ammunition used by fighters loyal to al-Sadr apparently caught fire, witnesses and Shiite militia members said. At least one person was killed and eight others were wounded.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said about 100,000 armed individuals will enter civilian life or take jobs in the state police force or security services. The militias have been credited with an active role in the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein. "By doing this, we reward their heroism and sacrifices, while making Iraq stronger and eliminating armed forces outside of government control," Allawi said in a statement. None of the nine militias has been fighting the government and most are controlled by mainstream political movements represented in the government.

The U.S.-led coalition tried to persuade the militias to disband last year but failed because leaders were unwilling to give up their armed fighters at a time of deteriorating security. Al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army did not join the agreement. It has been fighting coalition forces since an uprising in early April, although an agreement with Shiite leaders to stop the violence appears to be taking hold in Kufa, and its twin city, Najaf. Under the agreement, most of the militias are to be phased out by 2005, in a countrywide program worth about $200 million.

The militias who signed up would be treated as army veterans -- eligible for government benefits, including pensions and job placement programs, depending on their service, according to coalition officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. Participating militias would hand in their weapons to the Ministry of Interior and join the program as individuals, not as units or groups, coalition officials said. All the rest, including al-Sadr's militia, will be declared "illegal armed forces" that could be arrested when the Coalition Provisional Authority order is signed later Monday, the officials said.

According to the order, which coalition officials said will be part of Iraq's transitional administrative law, nonparticipating militias will also be barred from political office for three years. The deal includes militia members who fought for the Kurdish parties -- the Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. They battled Saddam's forces in the northern part of the county.

Allawi said the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Counsel of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq also agreed to disband, although representatives of the party claimed negotiations had not even begun. "The completion of these negotiations and the issuance of this order mark a watershed in establishing the rule of law, placing all armed forces under state control, and strengthening the security of Iraq," Allawi said.

Other militias affected by the agreement include those of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Iraqi Hezbollah, the Iraqi Communist Party, and Dawa, a Shiite party. About 75,000 of the 100,000 militiamen expected to take part are northern Kurds who will either be integrated into the new 35,000-man national army or serve as police, border guards, mountain rangers or counterterrorism agents in Kurdish zones, coalition officials said.

In Kufa, firefighters and ambulances went to the site of the explosions near the mosque, where fighters in al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army had been holed up. One militiaman blamed an American missile attack, but the U.S. military said it had no troops in the area. Tensions remained high in Iraq after a car bomb outside an American base killed nine people Sunday and injured 30 others -- including three U.S. soldiers. Insurgents also blasted police stations in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad and in a town south of the capital, and a U.S. soldier was killed in a mortar attack.

Riyadh Moussa, a militiaman who had been sleeping in the Kufa mosque compound, said he heard a "whoosh of a missile in the air" and a strong thud when a projectile hit the storage area. "I'm sure it was the Americans who did it," he said. "We have no other enemies."

A spokesman for the coalition said no forces were near the mosque at the time of the blast. Iraqi police took small arms fire when they tried to approach to see what was going on, the U.S. military said. The mosque had been the site of near-daily clashes between American troops and al-Sadr's forces. However, the site had been peaceful since Thursday under a deal meant to end the fighting. Under the plan, al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army is supposed to pull back from the Islamic shrines in Kufa and Najaf, and hand over security to Iraqi police.

The U.S. Army agreed to a request from the local governor to keep U.S. troops away from the Kufa mosque, where al-Sadr preaches, to give Iraqi security forces a chance to ease tensions. Al-Mahdi Army members were gathering outside the mosques Monday, some armed with rifles, and stopped reporters from approaching the mosque. Nine people, including civilians and militiamen, were hospitalized in Kufa with injuries from the explosions, mostly burns, and one died, said Mohammed Abdul-Kadhim, a nurse.

However, the number of the injured may be higher since the al-Mahdi militia doesn't always take their injured to hospitals. Also Monday, Marine officers said assailants fired two 122mm rockets at a Marine base outside Fallujah but caused no damage or casualties. The attack came hours after the Marines of the battalion suspended assistance and reconstruction projects in Fallujah's eastern suburb of Karma following the kidnapping of an Iraqi interpreter. Sunday's car bombing occurred at the gate of the Taji air base, which is used by the U.S. Army, about 12 miles north of Baghdad. It was unclear if it was a suicide attack. The U.S. command also reported an American soldier was killed Sunday and another wounded in a mortar attack on a base near Balad, north of Baghdad.

A U.S. security company confirmed Sunday that four of its employees -- two Americans and two Poles -- were killed the day before in an ambush on the main road to Baghdad airport. The company, Blackwater USA, lost four employees in an ambush in March in Fallujah that triggered the bloody three-week siege of the restive Sunni Muslim city. The British Foreign Office reported a British security contractor was killed and three colleagues wounded in a drive-by shooting Saturday in the northern city of Mosul. The four worked for ArmorGroup, which has 1,000 employees in Iraq.

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