A Friday deadline has been issued for armed militiamen to get off the streets of Najaf. Specifically, the Badr Brigade.
The question of security and who controls it has become one of the most sensitive points of disagreement between officials with the U.S.-led occupation and Iraqis who complain that U.S. efforts have fallen short. U.S. officials have increasingly turned to the Iraqi police as the front line in enforcing order, but to many Iraqis, that force still suffers from a lack of credibility or is shadowed by ties to its predecessor under former president Saddam Hussein’s government. In increasingly vocal terms, members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council have insisted that more authority be turned over to them in devising security and vetting those responsible for it.
I mentioned last week that I thought maybe we could use the Badr Brigade’s apparent willingness to keep Najaf secure to everyone’s advantage. I think we should work with all parties involved to see if the Badr Brigade, or parts of it, can’t be included in the area’s security forces.
Rather than just a question of law and order, the dispute over who carries arms goes to the heart of Iraq’s postwar arrangement. In a country riven by ethnic and sectarian differences, the prospect of competing militias has alarmed military officials charged with keeping the peace and even some Iraqis who fear the potential for violence in a country with a long history of it.
“This could very easily become an extremely tense confrontation, and we don’t want that,” Woodbridge [commander of the Marines occupying Najaf] said. “We’re not going to let this escalate into a flash point. There is only one legitimate authority and that is the Najaf police.”
If we’ve got willing people who have the respect of the Iraqi living in the area, we should try to incorporate them into the plan. Maybe a sprinkling of Badr Brigade men into the official police (after background checks) would add some legitimacy to a group that sorely lacks it right now. Maybe a couple of Badr Brigade platoons under police command could be a sort of SWAT force.
These guys would need to be checked out, of course. I’m giving them almost complete benefit of the doubt in my ignorance. We wouldn’t want to help set up a group that would challenge the police force or abuse it’s position. But if they have the blessing of the local people, I think we need to explore ways to work it out. They want to help take charge in their country. They are offering to do exactly what we have asked other nations to do for us. We should take a long hard look at it, and I think we need to be open about why we are or are not going to take advantage of what they propose.