With the blessings of the Americans and the interior ministry in Baghdad, the Sunni tribes of Ramadi and up through the Euphrates River valley are mounting militias to back up the local police force.
Known as emergency response units, or ERUs, the planned eight battalions of men will be trained in policing and will draw pay, uniforms and equipment from Baghdad. There are three already operating on a provisional basis outside Ramadi. Others are planned for Hit and al Qaim. They will be conducting route security, securing the long highway that connects Baghdad to Jordan, and provide a pool of men to tap in a crisis.
About two dozen sheiks reached out to the coalition last summer to help restore security in Ramadi. The gesture came after all five members of the provincial security council were systematically assassinated and then an important sheik kidnapped and murdered. But the sheiks were reluctant to send their sons to the national army. The army, like the country and central government, is predominantly Shiite and is perceived here as outsiders. The army also deploys soldiers nationwide; the sheiks wanted their men to protect their own people.
"I would call it more of a National Guard kind of thing, local to their area and able to be called up for security operations," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq. "That's why I think this is an important concept."
This is not a first for Iraq. Similar organizations exist in the Shiite towns of Hillah and Karbala. But it may be an especially tricky arrangement to pull of in Anbar province, the Sunni heartland. It was here that the disastrous Fallujah Brigade, a Sunni militia, was organized and then turned on U.S. forces. Anbar's disaffected Sunnis comprise most of the insurgency and are no doubt tied into the same tribes tapped for the ERUs.
The notion of tribal militias also raises the specter of civil war. Shiite militias plague Baghdad and increasingly Diyala province. The Sunni tribes no doubt see the Emergency Response units as a hedge against them, a senior military official in Fallujah told UPI.
But Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, in Ramadi who brokered the deal for the ERUs, said he believes this effort will diminish the chances of the tribal militias freelancing.
"I'm bringing tribal militias onto the team. The tribal militias have always been out here. This is how we integrate them into the Iraqi Security Forces," he said last week.
The potential benefits of linking the tribes more closely to the government while improving security outweighs the risk, said Maj. Gen. Rick Zilmer, commander of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force-Forward.
"Any sort of organization potentially runs that risk if it's not held in check. But ... this is an organization that has vowed its loyalty to the government of Iraq," said Zilmer.
ERUs will be paired with embedded American military police training teams.
"The same sort of things we try to accomplish with police and the army -- the rule of law, respect for human rights -- those are the things we will try to impress on this organization. But it is a very local security organization," Zilmer said.
Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, said unlike in 2004 there are key controls that should keep the ERUs from turning into independent armies.
"When we had the problems with Fallujah Brigade, and I was here at that time as well (in 2004), there was an interim government and no true ministerial structure. All these solutions were truly local solutions," Dempsey said in an interview this week. "It's always the case ... that many local tribal leaders will have aspirations to solve all their problems locally. It's not necessarily a bad instinct.
"The difference between then and now is they really want to bring people into the legitimate structure and get them paid, notably, and equipped, notably, and get them trained."
Before they can start work, Dempsey said, they have to go through the eight-week police training program.
"Until they go through the standard curriculum they will not be paid and will not be equipped," he said. "We've got to hold them to the standard pattern of vetting, recruiting, training, and equipping."
However, the first three ERUs -- about 1,600 men in three distinct areas on the outskirts of Ramadi -- are already at work, according to Marine sources in Ramadi. They have received a week of training and are considered provisional police until they can go through the longer course. Because they are operating in their home neighborhoods with their own extended families, the tribal structure is anticipated to keep their behavior in check.
The ERU's will report to the provincial security chief who reports to the governor, but who receives his funding and equipment from the Interior Ministry, Dempsey said. Uniforms, weapons and a terms of reference for the organization are still being worked out.
Dempsey anticipates that traditional loyalties will be a source of friction.
"There are local influences, some of which are good influences and some of which are not so good influences, much like not unlike any local police force anyplace in the world," Dempsey said.
Sheikh Ahmed B. Abureeshah, 41, from Ramadi and one of the tribal leaders involved in the creation of ERUs, vowed the force will not join the sectarian fray.
"One of their important duties is to protect Shiites from the Sunnis. This force, it will not recognize one or the other. It should serve both. It should be built and serving under one country. And one thing the sheiks always press on them is we must live all as brothers, under one country, one land," he said.
Working within the tribal structure in Iraq is "uncomfortable" for Americans, a senior U.S. military officer said, but it may be the only way to muster the number of men needed for the work.
"In the absence of many other factors it may provide the cohesion necessary for the ascent of those folks to something better than they have now or have had in the last 30 years. All outcomes can be made better or worse, and it's important we give it everything that we have to make the outcomes better," he said. (c) UPI
|Most Recent Published Articles|