Perspective: A Legitimate Role for Iraq's Militias?
A series of bloody attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims traveling through central Iraq has raised the question of whether the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shi'ite militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, should be officially allowed to bear arms as a community security force. The Mahdi Army had protected previous pilgrimages, but has also been linked to executions and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis; it recently stood down its men, under pressure from the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, to avoid clashes with U.S. and Iraqi military forces securing Baghdad.
At a press conference last week, Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, was asked if the Mahdi Army might have a legitimate role in protecting Shi'ite gatherings. Petraeus seemed to suggest that such a solution might eventually be acceptable to the U.S. "You know, many of... the coalition countries have a variety of auxiliary police or other functions," Petraeus said guardedly.
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