Working with a U.S.-funded Sunni guard force can be a lot like dealing with the mob. Some of the armed men act like the dons of their neighborhood.
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 20, 2008
BAGHDAD -- As Arabic pop songs blared from a cafe and children squealed on rickety rides, men armed with pistols and Kalashnikovs wandered through a crowded Baghdad park one recent evening, checking visitors for weapons and keeping an eye out for suicide bombers.
Eight months ago, some of them may have been planting bombs themselves, or firing rounds at passing American convoys. But on this night, they grabbed hands and stomped their feet in a traditional line dance as a U.S. foot patrol stopped to watch.
Residents credit cooperation between the American soldiers and the dancing gunmen, members of a U.S.-funded Sunni neighborhood guard force, for a turnaround in security in Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab enclave in Shiite-dominated east Baghdad that until recently was on the front line of the Iraqi capital's sectarian war.
But doing business with the gunmen, whom the U.S. military has dubbed Sons of Iraq, is like striking a deal with Tony Soprano, according to the soldiers who walk the battle-blighted streets, where sewage collects in malodorous pools.
"Most of them kind of operate like dons in their areas," said 2nd Lt. Forrest Pierce, a platoon leader with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. They shake down local businessmen for protection money, seize rivals for links to the insurgency and are always angling for more men, more territory and more power.
For U.S. soldiers on the beat, it means navigating a complex world of shifting allegiances, half-truths and betrayals. ...
Such attacks were once a near-daily occurrence in Adhamiya. When the 3rd Squadron arrived last summer, its soldiers couldn't drive past Abu Hanifa Mosque without getting shot at. On the day they assumed responsibility for the area, the unit they replaced was struck by a roadside bomb that flipped a Bradley fighting vehicle, killing five soldiers and an interpreter.
But the number of attacks plunged to less than one a week after the military began paying local men $300 a month to protect their areas.
The U.S. military now has 843 gunmen on its payroll in Adhamiya, a once-prosperous neighborhood of retired military officers, teachers and professionals enclosed by a 12-foot-high concrete wall. ...
Last month, the number of attacks started to inch back up, leading soldiers to believe that religious extremists and the criminal gangs that thrive on chaos may be trying to stage a comeback. [More]
The problem in Iraq has always been that we've never had a side in the civil war we started there. I've always advised, from during the 2003 invasion onward, bribing Iraqis to calm down, but it doesn't solve the long term problem which is that everybody knows we're eventually going to leave and then there will be a scramble to grab the oil and whatever else is up for grabs. So, if the U.S. now wants to pay various ambitious men so they can build their power bases for the day of destiny, well, sure, they'll take the money.