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[casi] Iraqis threaten to go it alone

Iraqis threaten to go it alone

Amid faltering US security and rebuilding efforts, homegrown militias and
politicians emerge.

By Ilene R. Prusher | Staff Writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BAGHDAD - Close to five months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime,
frustration with the slow pace of rebuilding and the rapid decline in
security is giving prominent Iraqis a platform to promote going it alone.
In two key spheres in which the US-led coalition is having a difficult time
asserting its authority - security and governance - prominent Iraqis are
threatening to ignore or upstage the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA)
plans for Iraq.

Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, a highly respected Shiite cleric who withdrew from
the interim Governing Council this week, says that he may set up militias
around Iraq to address deteriorating security. Mr. Ulloum, who was appointed
to the council in July by US officials, said he was leaving the council
after a car bombing in Najaf a week ago killed at least 85 people, including
Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, one of the country's most senior Shiite

Such militias, already being organized by other groups who were initially
supportive of ousting Saddam Hussein, could pose a challenge to US or
multinational forces' attempts to assert control over the country.

This week's appointment of Iraqis to head the government ministries was
intended to show progress in turning over decision- making powers to Iraqis.
But at the same time, other Iraqi figures are now organizing a nationwide
conference that will promote itself as the true face of the Iraqi democracy.

The Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM), led by Sherif Ali bin Hussein -
a Hashemite family prince who is considered by royalists to be the heir to
the Iraqi monarchy deposed in 1958 - is organizing a conference of what he
says will be approximately 500 political, professional, tribal, and legal
leaders from all over Iraq. The conference, which Mr. Hussein says will be
held here later this month, will contest Washington's postwar approach in

"The whole society feels like they've been denied the right to participate,"
says Hussein in an interview.

"We have been in discussions for six weeks, and what we are building is a
consensus of the real Iraqis. Iraq is occupied and we need to discuss how we
should deal with the occupation authorities, because so far, that
relationship is one-sided."

Hussein, who returned here in June after being shuttled out of the country
during a violent coup at the age of two, says that the conference will draw
on law experts to challenge some facets of US policy here as illegal, and
will demand that delegates to the constitutional convention that CPA
Administrator Paul Bremer intends to call be chosen through nationwide
elections. Currently, CPA officials say they will not hold elections until
after a constitution is passed in a referendum - probably at the end of

"The governing council is a step in the right direction, but it is hardly
acceptable that they are merely appointees," Hussein says. "The American
coalition has veto power, so the council lacks legitimacy. "

There are no poll figures or other reliable statistics to gauge just how
popular the return of a monarchy would or would not be. Hussein is popular
with some conservative Iraqis who crave stability and, as a descendent of
Imam Ali, he is revered by some Shiites. Others say he lacks a significant
domestic power base and allies in Washington.

But perhaps more important than any chance of winning a starring role in
Iraq's future is the affront to the US-led authorities here if Hussein and
his CMM are able to gather hundreds of Iraqis from around the country.

The key message in both emerging movements: Iraqi faith in the coalition is
wearing thin.

"Militias and informal armed groups are really a response to a gap. There's
a huge vacuum, people are being killed, and obviously the [former] regime is
using assassination and targeting those cooperating with the new order,"
says Ali Allawi, appointed this week as Iraq's Minister of Trade, in a
telephone interview from Britain. Mr. Allawi is leaving his position as an
expert in Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford University to take up his new
position next week in Baghdad.

"If people are not getting sufficient protection, you can't blame them for
creating alternative frameworks for improving their security. If they don't
do this by engaging the Iraqis and getting help from those who by and large
disapproved of the old order, it won't work. We have the world hyper-power
in charge, and yet we have them unable to sustain a very basic level of

Various groups say they are forming militia groups to protect their
communities. A former Iraqi army major, who asked not to be named, says he
and others from the former Iraqi military are starting a private defense
force. He's careful to note that this is not a resistance group - they were
not opposed to the US invasion - but in the steamy, late-summer evenings,
the crackle of gunfire is as common as crickets. Iraqis say there is rampant
crime and a jump in kidnappings for ransom. "What else can we do? We cannot
depend on them to ensure our security," the officer says.

Since the UN bombing two weeks ago, US officials have become more vocal
about their own plans to bring in more Iraqis to fill the security vacuum.
CPA officials say better intelligence, not more US soldiers, is what is
needed to stop the bombings.

Mr. Bremer says there are 40,000 officers in the new Iraqi police force, and
the coalition has recruited three battalions of a new Iraqi civil defense
corps in the past four weeks, while the first battalion of the new Iraqi
army is in training.

"Iraqis are already involved in the security of their country, and we intend
to increase that number as we go forward," he said this week.

By the end of 2004, he hopes Iraq will have between 65,000 and 75,000 police

"We believe that there is not a role in the new Iraq for organized militias.
We do not believe organized militias are consistent with an independent,
unified Iraq," Bremer said. "However, we have encouraged members of
[existing] militias ... to play a role in security.

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