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March 22, 2004
Iraqi Militias to Disband

The Anglo-American led Coalition administration in Baghdad is close to reaching a deal to disarm two of the largest Iraq militias, absorbing them into a centrally-controlled security apparatus and defusing one of the biggest obstacles to domestic stability:

Leaders of Iraq's two largest militias have provisionally agreed to dissolve their forces, according to senior U.S. and Iraqi officials. The move is a major boost to a U.S. campaign to prevent civil war by eliminating armed groups before sovereignty is handed over to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, the officials said.

Members of the two forces -- the Shiite Muslim Badr Organization and the Kurdish pesh merga -- will be offered a chance to work in Iraq's new security services or claim substantial retirement benefits as incentives to disarm and disband. Members of smaller militias will also be allowed to apply for positions with the new security services, but those that choose not to disband will be confronted and disarmed, by force if necessary, senior U.S. officials said.

The militias in the north and the south assisted in providing security for the Coalition in the vacuum created by the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, and both the Kurds and the Shi'ites were more reliable than the Sunnis, who were more closely aligned with Saddam's regime and caused most of the security problems bedeviling the Coalition. However, the existence of these armed forces loyal only to their tribal affiliations would present a huge problem for the incoming native Iraqi government.

The US diplomatic victory in disbanding or co-opting these militias into the central security forces will ease the transition from the occupation to the interim government on July 1st and allow the Iraqis to concentrate on developing the necessary infrastructure for nationwide elections. Although the article indicates some warning flags about troop loyalty, their willingness to reach these agreements speaks volumes to their focus on holding Iraq together as a political unit.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 22, 2004 6:07 AM

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