Iraqi and coalition officials have
unveiled a controversial plan to create an Iraqi paramilitary unit to boost the
U.S. military's fight against an anti-coalition insurgency. Coalition officials
here say the new paramilitary force would be formed by uniting militiamen from
the country's five largest political parties represented in the U.S.-appointed
Each party is expected to contribute as many as 170 fighters, including Shiite
militiamen and the Kurdish pesh merga, who defended the country's northern
autonomous Kurdish region from Saddam Hussein's army. U.S. Special Forces troops
would arm, train and work with the unit, whose operations will fall under the
Iraqi Ministry of Interior and be overseen by the U.S.-led military command
According to military sources, the battalion's initial focus will be on apprehending
Saddam's Baath Party loyalists and other suspected insurgents in and around
the Iraqi capital. Once the new counter-terrorism unit is deployed as part
of Iraq's newly installed Civil Defense Corps, it is likely to give the five
political organizations on the Governing Council an unrivaled role in the country's
The parties have long argued that their militias should be given more security
responsibilities since they are better trained than existing Iraqi forces and
better suited to fight Baathists and foreign Muslim extremists than coalition
troops. But the plan has come under fire from critics who say giving counter-terrorism
training to militiamen with allegiances to different groups could badly backfire
on the U.S.-led coalition.
Critics, including some independent members of the Governing Council, worry
that Iraqi political leaders could use the fighters to pursue their own agendas,
such as suppressing political dissent and targeting enemies.
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor dismisses such fear. He says militia members
would be recruited under rigorous conditions and as individuals, not as intact
units. "Any individual that is recruited and serves must serve as an individual,
under a new Iraq, unified Iraq security service," he says. "They cannot be
serving to represent a political party or a particular militia."
Sources say leaders of the five parties had initially wanted to create a
much larger force that would report directly to the Interior Ministry. But
they say American officials rejected that proposal, saying a smaller unit under
U.S. control would be sufficient for now.