As security deteriorates in Iraq, the government is desperately searching for solutions. Recently Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for revitalizing the Sons of Iraq groups, which he neglected after the U.S. withdrawal, and about using the Tribal Support Councils that he created several years ago. The latest idea being floated is the creation of “popular committees” in Baghdad and its suburbs, which would assist the security forces. The first group to publicly acquiesce to this plan is an Iranian supported militia with ties to Maliki. That raises fears that the committees could lead to official backing of the various militias that still exist within the country and the creation of new ones. This could be a step backwards for the country, as stability is not served by supporting neighborhood gunmen.
Khazali of the League of the Righteous has welcomed the idea of forming local committees in Baghdad to help with security, but that may just lead to more instability as it raises fears that militias will openly return to Iraq’s streets (AFP)
In September 2013, the Iraqi government floated the idea of creating local committees that would help with security. The next month, the head of the pro-Iranian League of the Righteous Qais Khazali told the press that his group was forming popular committees in Baghdad neighborhoods. He said his organization would set up roadblocks and patrol areas of the capital, because the security forces were not up to the task of protecting the public. The League of the Righteous already claims to have a close relationship with the army and police, because it is aligned with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Previously the Badr Organization, the former militia of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and now its own political party, said that it would help with security as well. It too is allied with the premier. Parliament’s security committee quickly criticized the idea. One member asked what the committees would do, where they would be formed, and how they would be led. Another thought that the committees would lead to the militarization of society as local militias could be formed throughout the capital. He asked why that was necessary if the government already had an army and police. The idea of local security units harkens back to the civil war years when the capital broke down into neighborhoods, and each was protected by its own armed group. Members of parliament are obviously alarmed that this could occur again. The Sunni protest movement has increasingly accused the government of backing militias, and using them against their community. Stories of the League of the Righteous working with the government forces just reinforces the demonstrators’ belief that the Shiite parties are aligned against them and using extra-legal means to suppress and attack them. Last, Maliki and the League are aligned, which could mean that these committees will be used to further the prime minister’s own political goals, and reward his friends. Rather than helping with security, the popular committees just seems like a bad idea that will lead to further deterioration of a worsening situation.
Iraq is witnessing a revival of its insurgency. The number of bombings and deaths has seen a dramatic increase from the beginning of the year to today. Faced with this dilemma the government is becoming desperate for solutions. The on going security operations are obviously not helping, so now Prime Minister Maliki is fishing around for alternatives. He has talked about the Sons of Iraq, the Tribal Support Councils, and now possibly local committees in Baghdad and its environs. Instead of empowering local citizens to protect their own areas the government should be pushing the security forces to return to the counterinsurgency tactics that served them so well when they were working with the American military. Political deals also need to be forged that address some of the complaints of the Sunni community such as arbitrary arrests, long detentions, deBaathification, etc. Instead Maliki might be heading towards increasing sectarian fears by allowing Shiite militias allied with him to openly operate. Only with better tactics and political will can Iraq pull itself out of this current crisis. Having more people with weapons out on the street is just a recipe for more problems.
Arango, Tim, “Rise in Deadly Attacks on Shiites in Iraq Stirs Anger at Government,” New York Times, 9/27/13
Buratha News, “League of the Righteous Movement launches initiative for the formation of popular committees that help the security forces to close streets,” 10/9/13
Al-Mada, “Diyala National Alliance warns: Displacement returned to the province and 400 families displaced from Baquba,” 10/14/13
Al-Tamimi, Iyad, “Parliamentary Security: People’s Committees recognition of the failure of one million soldiers in the ranks of our armed forces,” Al-Mada, 10/14/13