After months of bickering Iraq’s cabinet finally approved the draft bill on creating a new National Guard. There were deep differences within the Council of Ministers over who would control the Guard, how big it would be, who would pay for it, etc. Many Shiite and Kurdish parties were afraid that the new force would be taken over by insurgents or anti-government tribes. Several major revisions were made to the draft legislation before it was passed onto parliament, but there are still enough differences that there is no guarantee that it will be voted on any time soon.
When Prime Minister Haider Abadi came into office in September 2014, he proposed creating a National Guard that would not only help with security, but would also reach out to Sunnis. Originally the concept was for local armed forces to be raised in each province, which would be under the control of the governors. Press reports focused upon incorporating pro-government Sunni tribes into the new Guard, but militias would also be included. There was a report in Al Jazeera that the United States wanted insurgent groups like the Baathist Naqsibandi, the Islamic Army and Hamas-Iraq to join as well. Some provinces and tribes immediately supported the idea. Many sheikhs and the local government in Anbar for example, quickly jumped on board and began holding talks with the premier about how to move forward. Most of Anbar had fallen to insurgents by then, and the provincial council and tribes had been begging for help for months. Other governorates didn’t have enough police, soldiers or militias to fully secure their territory and saw the National Guard as an additional force to help in that effort. On the other hand, many Shiite and Kurdish factions were against the idea. Some Kurdish politicians warned that the Guard could be a long term risk to the country, and could be used in conflicts between provinces. A Badr lawmaker said that the government didn’t need the National Guard because the militias could defeat the insurgency on their own. There were also questions about who would control the Guard, how it would be organized, its salaries, and powers. The main fear however by both groups was that the Guard could be used against the central or regional governments by hostile Sunnis. If the Al Jazeera piece was to be believed, the U.S. was stoking these fears by talking about including Baathists and active insurgent groups. These divisions led to a series of delays within the cabinet, and a special committee was created to re-draft the bill.
Finally, at the start of February the cabinet passed the National Guard bill with some major amendments, but there were still major splits between the parties. The bill was passed by a vote of 19 to 13. Most of those voting against the draft came from the Shiite National Alliance showing that they still had deep reservations. On the other hand, a lawmaker said all the Sunni ministers voted for it. The legislation has gone through some major revisions. No longer would the Guard be under the governors, but rather the prime minister as Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces. Governors could reject forming units in their provinces if they wanted to however. There would also be two types of Guard, one would be on duty full time and consistent of the most experienced members. The other would be a reserve that would only be called up when needed. The Guard would also help with national disasters and not just security duties. Finally the peshmerga would not be included. There are still questions about how big the force would be, and what would happen with Guard members after the insurgency is defeated. There was some talk of creating a sectarian quota for how many Guard members would be Shiite and Sunni, but that doesn’t appear to have been agreed upon. The discussion will now move to the parliament, which is just as split over the legislation as the cabinet was. Given the large number of lawmakers the debate is likely to be even more heated than in the cabinet.
Premier Abadi is hoping that the National Guard cannot only assist with fighting the insurgency, but helps reconcile with Sunnis, but there is still a lot of opposition from Shiite and Kurdish parties that could delay or kill the bill. The prime minister was able to push the draft through the cabinet in four months. Concerns over governors manipulating the National Guard for their own personal gain appeared to have been overcome by placing the force under the prime minister. Still, the fact that most of the Shiite ministers voted against it means there is no guarantee it will get through the legislature. The fears of a Sunni 5th column forming within the Guard will be hard to overcome.
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