Can Iraq's Militias Be Disbanded?
About This Event

Since Saddam Hussein’s fall, few problems have destabilized Iraq more than militias. Allied with political parties, these forces have become incubators of sectarian violence. With President George W. Bush’s deployment of additional troops to pacify and secure Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promises to take action. As reprisal attacks continue unabated, how can U.S. and Iraqi troops drain Baghdad and outlying towns of local militias? Should coalition forces confront them militarily, or can militias be integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces?

These and other questions will be discussed at an AEI panel discussion with Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Military and Security Studies Program; Ali Latif, a fellow at the Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research; Larry Crandall, a State Department contractor with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq; and Larry Sampler, a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses. AEI’s Michael Rubin will moderate.

Agenda

9:45 a.m.
Registration
10:00
Panelists:
Larry Crandall, Contractor, U.S. Department of State
Michael Eisenstadt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Ali Latif, Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research
Larry Sampler, Institute for Defense Analyses
Moderator:
Michael Rubin, AEI
11:30
Adjournment

Event Summary

 March 2007

Can Iraq's Militias Be Disbanded?

Since Saddam Hussein's fall, few problems have destabilized Iraq more than militias. Allied with political parties, these forces have become incubators of sectarian violence. With President George W. Bush's deployment of additional troops to pacify and secure Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promises to take action. As reprisal attacks continue unabated, how can U.S. and Iraqi troops drain Baghdad and outlying towns of local militias? Should coalition forces confront them militarily, or can militias be integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces?

These and other questions were the subject of an AEI panel discussion with Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Military and Security Studies Program; Ali Latif, a fellow at the Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research; Larry Crandall, a State Department contractor with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq; and Larry Sampler, a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses. AEI's Michael Rubin moderated the March 28 event.

Ali Latif
Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research

Most of the militias that are present today arose as armed wings of political parties in response to the repression of Saddam's regime; this also applies to the relatively new Mahdi Army. It is important to understand that they were present before the war. After the war they filled the security vacuum. Initially, these militias were peaceful and thus left alone.

As the violence increased, the need for the militias increased, because they provided the local population with protection from ethnic cleansing and suicide bombings. They also provided monetary assistance for victims of the terror campaigns and served as local police. Thus, in dealing with militias, the Iraqi government must understand what they do and provide the services that the militias provide to local communities.

The short-term plan for dealing with the militias requires the provision of security. If militias stand down, yet the suicide bombings continue or are not seen to be dealt with, many people will be against disbanding militias. The next phase is to provide people with required services like electricity and infrastructure. This is easy to do and can enhance the image of the Iraqi government in the eyes of the people. The third step would be a political deal in which political leaders are made responsible for their militia members. The political leaders would be required to register their militia members in lists, thus assuming responsibility for their actions. Creating competition between various militias through a reward system can also be helpful because as one militia sees that other militia members have been integrated in security forces, they will want to do the same. The Iraqi government has to regain its monopoly on security and services.

Larry Sampler
Institute for Defense Analyses

Militias can not be suddenly disbanded. The government of Iraq has to deal with them so that they die out of neglect. People must lose interest in supporting militias, in terms of both funding and personnel. Militias are a consequence of instability in Iraq more than a cause of it.

Militias are a wide range of groups from the Beshmarga to local neighborhood watch groups that are not a high priority. Demilitarization Demobilization Reintegration (DDR) might not be a good idea in Iraq, as this is not a task that the coalition forces can take on. There are not enough resources and the time is not right to do so. Weakening militias at the wrong time, without providing an alternative, can create an imbalance of power that would encourage local power brokers to take control. There are cases where they are the only people securing the area.

Larry Crandall
U.S. Department of State

In previous situations, DDR programs that enjoyed some success have always had a political process underway. This process is currently not underway in Iraq, so it is immature to start DDR now.

The Maliki government is not serious about combating militias, but it has made some progress recently. Unless the government is serious about ending militias and implements an operational plan, nothing will happen in the near future. The Iraqi government is divided, because many militias have infiltrated the national police force. Some facilities protection services have turned into little more than murder gangs. Some militias have already been integrated, and the results are not positive. There is also no coherent operational plan to disband militias.

Michael Eisenstadt
Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Initially, the major driving force behind violence in Iraq was the insurgency. Although there were militias present before the war, many of the militias gained their support as a result of the insurgent violence. It is now difficult to separate the two, as violence varies from neighborhood to neighborhood and militias are part of a diverse mix. In Sunni areas, where the coalition only dealt with the insurgency violence, now there is militia violence from groups with links to the insurgents. In the south, where there was only a militia problem, there is now an insurgency problem, as many of the militias are involved in anti-coalition attacks.

People generally attribute the presence of militias to the security dilemma, but there is an economic element to this. In Iraq, militias have engaged in kidnapping and smuggling. People have an interest in the conflict continuing because they can make money off it. Political parties can also use militias as a form of political power.

To eliminate militias, the Iraqi government needs an effective law-enforcement system, police force, courts, and jail system--elements which are not present now. Thus militias have to be prevented from enhancing their military capabilities. DDR can not take place without security sector reform. There must be a DDR program for each militia, as militias vary from those based on ideology to those that can be dealt with through their central leader  to those based on economic issues.

AEI intern Samuel Tadros prepared this summary.

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