March 9, 2005

Warlords with Private Armies Emerge in Iraq

Recently, various gentlemen in Iraq have come up with a time-tested response to the old challenge:

Q. Oh, yeah? Who's going to make me? You and which army?

A. My own personal army! [Bang-Bang-Boom-Boom]

New factor in Iraq: irregular brigades fill security void BY: Greg Jaffe, The Wall Street Journal 16/02/2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In the battle against insurgents here, two kinds of Iraqi military forces are emerging: the planned units and the pop-ups.

The planned units of the Iraq Army, about 57,000 soldiers strong, are the result of careful preparation this summer between the U.S. and Iraqi commanders. The pop-ups started to emerge last fall out of nowhere, catching the American military by surprise. These dozen disconnected units totaling as many as 15,000 soldiers are fast becoming one of the most significant developments in the new Iraq security situation.

The unplanned units -- commanded by friends and relatives of cabinet officers and tribal sheiks -- go by names like the Defenders of Baghdad, the Special Police Commandos, the Defenders of Khadamiya and the Amarah Brigade. The new units generally have the backing of the Iraqi government and receive government funding.

While regular units of the Iraq Army have taken up residence on rehabilitated army bases, the others camp out in places like looted Ministry of Defense buildings, a former women's college, an old Iraqi war monument and an abandoned aircraft hangar. Frequently, U.S. officials don't find out about them until they stumble across them. Some Americans consider them a welcome addition to the fight against the insurgency -- though others worry about the risks.

"We don't call them militias. Militias are...illegal," says Maj. Chris Wales, who spent most of January tracking down and finding these new forces. "I've begun calling them 'Irregular Iraqi ministry-directed brigades.' " The "pop up" label comes from other U.S. military officials in Baghdad.

Troops who might have otherwise joined the regular Iraqi Army are drawn to these units because they are often led by a particularly inspirational commander or made up of people with similar tribal and religious backgrounds. This makes the units more cohesive and potentially effective against the insurgency. "Just show us where to go and we will eat the insurgents alive," an Iraqi in one of these units told Maj. Wales earlier this month when he tracked them down at a long-shuttered Baghdad airport..

In late November with the Iraqi elections approaching, homegrown units similar to the Commandos began popping up all over Baghdad. First came the Muthana Brigade, a unit formed by the order of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. It set down roots at a long-abandoned airport in downtown Baghdad. Like the Commandos, the unit appeared to be well-trained and was pressed quickly into service. "They went from not even existing to being as viable as any Iraqi Army unit out there in six weeks," says Col. Franklin. [More]

Which points out that all this blather from Bush (and from Kerry last fall) about "training" Iraqis is bosh. Iraq used to have the fourth largest Army in the world. It has plenty of men with military training. What they lack is the motivation to fight under American direction.

Back in the 1920's, the young Mao discovered that to be somebody in the chaotic China of his day, you had to have your own army. He rode that insight all the way to being the new Emperor of China. Today, there are a lot of ambitious men in Iraq who are thinking along the lines, "Eventually, one man will probably wind up as Owner of the Oil. Why not me?"

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