Concerned Citizens leaders in Al Haswa region meet with US Army to discuss the security situation. Photo by Bill Roggio. Click to view.
As the movement against al Qaeda in Iraq picks up steam in the provinces, the gap between the locally formed auxiliary police forces and the central government threatens to erode the gains in security made over the past several months. US military officers are warning that they believe there is a limit to the amount of time these groups will operate without receiving official recognition from the central Iraqi government.
In recent months, the Concerned Citizens movement (also called Iraqi Police Volunteers, Concerned Local Citizens, Concerned Local Nationals, auxiliary police and a host of other names) has spread from Abu Ghraib in western Baghdad province, to the “Triangle of Death” cities of Iskandariyah, Mahmudiyah, and Yusafiyah, and the Al Haswa, Arab Jabour, and Salman Pak regions in southern Baghdad province. Concerned Citizens movements have sprung up inside Baghdad, as well as in Salahadin, Diyala and Ninewa provinces, and even to the Shia regions of Wasit province.
Most recently, the Concerned Citizens movement has spread to Tarmiyah, which was once one of the most violence towns in Iraq. Coalition raids netted al Qaeda leaders and operatives in Tarmiyah on a near daily basis. Multinational Forces Iraq described Tarmiyah as “a stronghold for financing, planning, preparation and communications in support of al-Qaida. Kidnapping, ransom, extortion and murder against Tarmiyah residents funded the insurgent operations.”
Tribal leaders organized an “awakening ceremony” on September 12. “They publicly recognized and denounced terrorist activity and called for volunteers to step forward to protect their families and homes.” The volunteers have been organized as the “Critical Infrastructure Security Contract Force” and work with US and Iraqi forces.
The tribes have also organized in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city. Unlike most of the Concerned Citizens movements inside Baghdad and the regions close to the city, the Mosul forces have the support of the Iraqi government, according to Azzaman. “Sheikh Fawaz al-Jarya said the tribes will initially form two battalions whose members will be armed and financed by the government,” Azzaman reported.
The sanctioning of the auxiliary police follows the example of Anbar province, where 10 battalions of Provincial Security Forces were formed with the approval of the central government. These auxiliary police forces receive abbreviated training, as well as weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, and pay from the Ministry of the Interior.
The Concerned Citizens movements in and around Baghdad have yet to receive official recognition from the Iraqi government, so the US military is paying the salaries of the volunteers while they are prohibited from arming them. In some locations, the Iraqi Army or police work directly with the Concerned Citizens in some capacity.
While the Shia-dominated Iraqi government is willing to support the auxiliary police movements in the hinterlands of Anbar and Mosul, there is hesitation and deep distrust with sanctioning these movements close to the capital. The Concerned Citizens hope to be able to integrate into the Army, National Police, or local police forces, but many of the volunteers do not meet the age, physical, or education standards of the established security forces.
US military commanders have warned the Concerned Citizens movement cannot be sustained indefinitely without recognition from the central government. “We estimate that the time frame the Concerned Citizens need to be recognized by the Iraqi government is about six months,” said Brigadier General Jim Huggins, the deputy commander for Multinational Division Center, during a battlefield circulation at Patrol Base Hawkes. Multinational Forces Iraq fears the volunteers will become disenchanted with the central government if they do not receive official recognition by the central government, Huggins says.
Lieutenant Colonel Ken Adgie, the commander of US forces in the Arab Jabour region, echoed Huggins’ sentiments while at Patrol Base Murray. “We’re two and a half months into this, things will get tougher in the next four months,” he said.
While it is unclear if six months is a reliable estimate, recent developments with the volunteers in Diyala province indicate the estimate may be somewhat accurate. Members of the Baqubah Guardians are expressing displeasure at the lack of recognition by the Iraqi government, and are seeking to become official members of the police forces.
The Guardians formed up six months ago as the fight against al Qaeda in Diyala heated up. In April 2007, members of the 1920s Revolution Brigades, a nationalist Sunni insurgent group, turned on al Qaeda in Iraq in Baqubah and Buhriz and formed the “Guardians.” The Guardians hunted al Qaeda in Iraq and worked alongside US and Iraqi Security Forces to battle the terror group during operations in the spring and summer; they have helped maintain security in Baqubah and Buhriz.
The debate in the US over reconciliation lacks the proper context. Critics of the Iraq war claim reconciliation is impossible until the national government mandates the terms of reconciliation. But reconciliation is already occurring throughout Iraq at the local level as Sunni and Shia tribes and insurgent groups organize against al Qaeda in Iraq and Shia extremists. In the short term, this is more important, as the regions can demonstrate their sincerity by securing their neighborhoods and reducing al Qaeda’s ability to regenerate and stage attacks into the capital.
In order for reconciliation to occur at the national level, the gap of distrust between the central government and the local, volunteer security forces must be closed. Accommodations must be made for the volunteers to become a legitimate arm of the security forces, whether as part of the local police, National Police, or Army, or as in Anbar province, part of the provincial security forces.
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