|Squabble over Iraqi
By Valentinas Mite
PRAGUE - Iraqi Kurdish and Shi'ite
militias are all strong fighting forces. Three
political parties - the Kurdish Democratic Party,
or KDP; the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK;
and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq, or SCIRI - possess the strongest militias
in the country. Other political parties also have
their own armed militias, but retain much smaller
numbers of men.
David Hartwell, Middle
East editor at the British-based Jane's Sentinel
Security Assessments, says the KDP has thousands
of seasoned and well-armed fighters. "The KDP, who
are the Kurdish Democratic Party, have got 15,000
guerrillas, with another 25,000 tribal militia,"
The PUK, the party of
President Jalal Talabani, has some 15,000
guerrillas and some 20,000 tribal militia
Before the fall of Saddam
Hussein, Kurdish forces fought the Iraqi army for
several years, while PUK and KDP militias also
fought a war against each other.
says that the Kurdish fighters, or
peshmergas, are not badly armed for a
militia, but are not on the same level as a
regular army. "I think the heaviest thing that
they've got probably is heavy artillery. You know,
rocket launchers. I don't think there's anything
particularly sophisticated about the weaponry
they've got," Hartwell says.
says Kurds bought heavy weaponry on the black
market abroad and also in Iraq itself. Many of the
fighters received training when they were army
conscripts in the Iraqi army. Others were likely
trained by US Special Forces before the war.
Another prominent militia, the Shi'ite
Badr Brigade is an armed wing of SCIRI. The exact
number of fighters in the brigade is not known,
but there are estimates of several thousand. The
force consists mainly of men who fled to Iran
under Saddam's rule.
director of the Center for Arab and Iranian
Studies in London, says the Badr Brigade is a
serious fighting force. However, he adds that the
group's close ties with Iran cast some doubts
about its loyalties.
"I'm sure among them,
at least a couple of thousand are real fighters
and they will be very good fighters, but the
problem is about their loyalty. First of all, many
of them never saw Iraq before the collapse of the
Iraqi regime, the toppling of the Saddam regime.
Some of them were born in Iran and they were
educated in Iran. Their Persian is much better
than their Arabic. And their loyalty is to
Ayatollah Khomeini, to the Iranian government, to
Iranian security, not to the Iraqi [state]," says
Hartwell also speculates that
the Badr Brigade has likely received training
along the same lines as the militant group
Hezbollah, although its weaponry is
In the recent BBC
interview, Talabani regretted that the US was
opposed to using militia forces. He argued that
"we have inner forces [able] to eradicate the
terrorists" and that they should be brought into
However, analysts say they
cannot imagine these Kurdish and Shi'ite fighters
coming to Sunni areas to introduce law and order.
Hartwell says this move would only make the
security situation worse and could bring the
country to the brink of a sectarian war.
"In the wider picture, it doesn't really
work when you knit it all together with the
Shi'ites and the Sunnis and how that is perceived,
I can't imagine the Americans are in the mood for
this [militias suppressing the insurgency],"
Nourizadeh agrees that
militias will only gravely exacerbate the
situation in Iraq. However, he says the new Iraqi
government should do everything it can to
integrate both Kurdish fighters and the Badr
Brigade into the national army. This, he says,
would not only elevate their status, but it would
also increase the fighting capabilities of regular
announcing the discovery of more than 50 bodies in
the Tigris River south of Baghdad, said the
victims were believed to be Shi'ite Muslim
hostages executed by Sunni militants in the city
of Madain. Reports earlier this week said the
militants had taken tens of Shi'ite civilians
hostage and had threatened to kill them unless all
of Madain's Shi'ite residents left the city. But
Sunni authorities denied the claim, and the Iraqi
army failed to find any hostages after entering
Talabani's announcement is
deepening the intrigue surrounding the alleged
massacre and kidnapping, which was officially
dismissed as rumor earlier this week. Talabani
said Thursday pictures would soon be released of
the bodies found in the river. He added that the
government knew all of the key details surrounding
"They [insurgents] threw the
bodies in the Tigris and more than 50 bodies have
been brought out of the Tigris. And we have the
full names of those who were killed and the
criminals who committed these crimes. And Mr Prime
Minister, Dr [Iyad] Allawi, is going to deal with
it," Talabani said.
An American military
spokesman in Baghdad said he had no information
about the finding.
It is still not clear
if the bodies found in the Tigris are those of the
people said to have been taken hostage in Madain.
Police in the area say the bodies have been
gradually recovered over the past several weeks,
not only since the hostage crisis. Some bodies
were said to be badly decomposed.
if only some of the bodies are determined to be
those of the hostages, it will bring Shi'ite-Sunni
tensions to a dangerous new level.
Said, an Iraq researcher at the London School of
Economics, says the incident underscored the
potential for sectarian violence in the country.
But he said many questions remained about the
Madain hostage story, and it is too soon to tell
what actually happened.
millions of rumors and explanations, from the fact
that it was actually a tribal feud that ended
acrimoniously, to the fact that these are old
[decomposed] bodies were dumped into the river.
It's a very murky story. We will never get to the
bottom of it, given the lack of intelligence and
information we have in Iraq," says Said.
Hartwell said the incident clearly showed
the government was not in control of some parts of
the country - particularly Sunni regions. But he,
too, says it is difficult to determine what may
have actually happened to the more than 50
victims. "My sort of instinctive feeling is that
probably theses bodies are the bodies of the
hostages. It is difficult to understand, to figure
what is fact and what is fiction," Hartwell says.
More than two years after the US-led
invasion of Iraq, no one seems to be safe in the
country - even top government officials. Allawi,
the interim prime minister, was targeted Thursday
evening by a suicide bomber. His convoy was
attacked as he was traveling home after government
talks. He survived, but the bombing was only one
of at least five in Baghdad that day. Militants
loyal to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
claimed responsibility for the attempt on Allawi's
News agencies are also reporting
that 19 Iraqi National Guards were killed in a
football stadium in Hadith, northwest of Baghdad,
after they were taken hostage. More than 400 Iraqi
police and soldiers have died in the past two
months, many ambushed while off duty.
Thursday, a roadside bomb hit a convoy
carrying foreign security contractors on the road
to Baghdad airport, killing at least two people.
Three foreign contractors were killed on the same
stretch of road earlier. Two US soldiers were
killed in the same area the day before.
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