TOPICS : Disbanding Iraq militias key to stability

While the formation of a new Iraqi government is one necessary condition to avert a civil war, another is for the US and Iraqi governments to get control of the Shiite militias that the US forces have been reluctant to fight.

American commanders have said that if a Sunni-Shiite civil war erupts in Iraq, they will look to Iraqi security forces to deal with it. Unfortunately, Iraqi security forces have become increasingly Shiite and, in the case of the police, infiltrated by Shiite militias. As a result, the US position is tantamount to letting the Iraqis slug it out.

That raises a question about the point of keeping a large US force in Iraq. But the alternative of putting American troops in the middle of a civil war would be even worse.

This predicament stems from two mistakes made after the Iraqis assumed sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in 2004. First, the American and Iraqi governments failed to implement the ban on militias negotiated by the CPA and enacted as Iraqi law — even though all militias except the Mahdi Army of the renegade Shiite Muqtada al Sadr agreed to the ban. Second, the Ministry of Interior, which controls Iraq’s police, was allowed to fall into the hands of another Shiite militia, the Badr Corps.

Even as it combats the Sunni insurgency, the US should use whatever clout it has left in Iraq to get control of the Shiite militias. Though a long shot, the only path may be to revive and finally implement the 2004 ban on militias. The terms of that deal are: Provide job training and placement for militia fighters willing to lay down their arms. Europeans and others could be asked to help fund this worthy cause; Permit militia fighters to join Iraq’s security forces as individuals, but not in groups with their command chains still intact; and enforce the disbanding of what is left of the militias after individuals enter job training or Iraqi security services. The 2004 law states that any political party retaining a militia should be excluded from politics, instead of being rewarded with high office. The more successful the first two measures, the easier it will be to rid Iraq of remaining militias. Conversely, the first two measures will not work without a credible threat to disband the militias.

The Kurds also have militias and must also obey the law. But Iraqi law allows most of these fighters to become official forces of the Kurdish Regional Government. Neither the new Iraqi government nor the US can dissolve the militias by itself. This must be done in

partnership and as the first order of business. The danger is that the very Shiite parties that control militias could dominate the new Iraqi government.

However, early signs are that Prime Minister Jawad al-Maliki will not let this happen. Now that Iraqis have created a new government, they and the US may be able to av-ert civil war if, perhaps only if, they implement and enforce the militia law. If they do not, keeping US tro-ops in Iraq will get harder and harder to defend. — The Christian Science Monitor