They could also be big trouble. They're armed and organized. Right now, they have to be, to clean up their neighborhoods. Later, when there aren't foreign terrorists to deal with, there's the danger that they'll try to force their views on others.
This possibility is obviously on the minds of the Iraqi national leaders, and the American news media.
"Shiite Praises Anti-Insurgent Militias" "The New York Times" (January 4, 2008)
"The American-backed groups, with nearly 80,000 members, are credited with routing Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist militants from many areas and helping to sharply reduce American deaths. Many militia members used to attack American troops, before deciding to join forces with them.
"While the rise of these groups has been the most promising development for the American military, the partnership has drawn deep skepticism from the Shiite-dominated central government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The Shiites fear the Americans have created an armed parallel force that one day could turn against the official Iraqi security forces, which are dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Last month, the government declared that it would eventually disband the groups, though it has said it would integrate some members into the official security forces."
"Top Iraqi official offers surprising praise of Sunni groups" "International Herald-Tribune (January 4, 2008)
"The head of Iraq's most influential Shiite political party offered surprisingly conciliatory remarks on Thursday about the former insurgents and other Sunnis who have banded together into militias now working with American forces, stating that the groups had helped improve security and should be continued.
"The Sunni groups, known as "Awakening Councils," emerged in 2006 in Sunni-dominated western Iraq, and last year spread to mixed Sunni-Shiite areas around Baghdad. Numbering close to 80,000, the American-backed groups are credited with driving out Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other militants from many areas and helping to reduce the American death toll sharply. Many militia members used to attack U.S. troops, before joining forces with them."
I may be over-sensitive, but I think I see a hint of the angle that future news about the Awakening Councils will be in that last sentence: "Many militia members used to attack U.S. troops, before joining forces with them."
That statement is quite true. Many people in the Awakening Councils did attack U.S. troops in Iraq. It's their country: And they thought, based on information that filtered through to them, that coalition forces, and Americans in particular, were imperialistic warmongers, bent on the subjugation of Iraq.
Then, when the 'occupying forces' were right there in their neighborhoods, they noticed that Al Qaeda was torturing and beheading Iraqis, while Americans were rebuilding power plants, hospitals, and roads.
It must have been around that point that Awakening Councils started growing.
I don't feel good about individuals who attacked, and killed, Americans being part of an organization that now has common interests with America. But I believe I understand their motives.
Here's a prediction:
- Sometime, within the next year, there will be an incident involving an Awakening Council
- When it happens, someone will recall the Mujahideen in Afghanistan
- American support of the Mujahideen, while they were fighting Soviet Union forces in their country, will be compared to American support of the Awakening Councils
We'll see if that prediction pans out.
I think that the Awakening Councils are a useful symbol for a great deal that's going on in Iraq, and around the world, today.
The Awakening Councils are a good news/bad news situation: They've helped Iraq get rid of foreign terrorists, but may become armed vigilantes. Or, worse, may try to take over at least part of the country.
Iraq is a mess. That shouldn't be any surprise, considering what the place has been through:
- Three-plus decades of rule by a dictator whose priorities lay more with lavish interior design than with the welfare of his subjects
- A series of wars, including the one that liberated Iraq
- Religious fanatics trying to make Iraq a place that they can control - unstable and poor
- Ethnic and religious differences threating to split the country three ways, at least
Remember the commercial, showing the town of Perfect? "Of course, we don't live anywhere near Perfect. we don't live anywhere near Perfect. So there's Walgreens. That's life. This is Walgreens."
Iraq isn't anywhere near perfect. That's life.