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Neighborhood Militias Proposed in Iraq


In the wake of last week's multiple suicide attacks in Iraq, as many as 50 lawmakers in the Iraqi National Assembly have called for neighborhood militias to take over local security duties from the Iraqi police and army.

In the past week, two of the bloodiest attacks blamed on Sunni militants targeted Shi'ite civilians.

Last Wednesday, a suicide car bomber rammed into a U.S. military vehicle in a Shi'ite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing dozens of children and teenagers. Three days later, a suicide bomber, driving a tanker laden with fuel, detonated in front of a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Musayyib, south of Baghdad. That attack killed at least 100 people, many of them worshippers arriving for sunset prayers.

Angry Shi'ite lawmakers in the 275-member Iraqi National Assembly have blamed Iraqi police and the army for security lapses. In a fiery speech to the assembly on Sunday, a senior Shi'ite politician, Khudai al-Khuzai, called on the government to allow neighborhood militias to guard vulnerable Shi'ite communities. Mr. Khuzai claimed that 50 fellow lawmakers supported his proposal.

Assembly member Abbas al-Bayati is a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a key party in the Shi'ite-led coalition that dominates the assembly. Mr. Bayati on Monday confirmed that a proposal to set up local militias is being considered.

Mr. Bayati says if neighborhood or district security forces are created, they would not fall under the authority of the national police or army. But they would cooperate with the ministries of interior and defense in most security matters.

Under the current U.S.-drafted law, Iraqi militias, some of which were initially formed to fight against Saddam Hussein's regime, are supposed to be either disbanded or integrated into national security forces. But both Shi'ite and Kurdish parties have largely kept their respective militias intact.

Mr. Bayati's party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, controls the well-armed Badr Brigade Shi'ite militia, which has been accused by Sunni Arabs of kidnapping and killing Sunni clerics and civilians.

Sunnis say they fear that neighborhood militias will not be made up of ordinary Shi'ite citizens. A senior Sunni politician, Adnan al-Janabi says a proposal to form local militias is an invitation for the Badr Brigade or Mahdi Army fighters loyal to firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, to move legitimately into neighborhoods and make war with Sunnis.

"Whether 50 or more want to accept it or not, entering into civil war by official ratification of the National Assembly is really impossible to envisage. We should be talking common sense," Mr. al-Janabi says.

Meanwhile, the World Bank says it has granted the Iraqi government's request for as much as $500 million in soft loans. The World Bank says it is the first such lending package extended to Iraq in more than three decades.

The announcement came as Iraq's planning minister, attending a two-day Iraqi reconstruction conference in neighboring Jordan, criticized donor nations for not following through on pledges made two years ago in Madrid.

Barham Saleh says that Iraq has received only $7 billion from the initial pledge of $32 billion.

Mr. Saleh says his country needs as much as $60 billion to fully recover from decades of war and sanctions. But observers say the on-going insurgency in Iraq and allegations of corruption at all levels of government have kept donors cautious.

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