Monday, July 30, 2007

Perspective: 'This is a seed for civil war'

Above: 'Former' Sunni insurgents cross a river this month in cooperation with U.S. forces during operation 'Arrowhead Ripper'.

When U.S. soldiers moved into an abandoned wool factory near here two months ago, they were pounded with bombs, mortar rounds and bullets.

"We were not really well received," Capt. David Fulton said with deliberate understatement.

The fighting around the factory north of Baghdad went on for a month, until local Sunni Muslim tribesmen decided they had had enough of the extremists in their midst and started working with the Americans. About 220 of those tribesmen now staff checkpoints and have started cooperating with Shiite counterparts who once were their enemies, said Fulton, a U.S. Army company commander from Yucaipa.

Experiences like these have led the U.S. military command to step up efforts to recruit residents to set up local protection forces, authorizing officers to use emergency cash and other funds to strike contracts with tribal leaders.

On Saturday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, credited the strategy with beginning to turn around an insurgent haven as he toured the region of dusty villages, citrus plantations, fish farms and palm groves near Taji, about 12 miles north of the capital.

But the Shiite-led government, which has been under intense U.S. pressure to dismantle Shiite militias, has complained that the policy legitimizes what they regard as the Sunni equivalent.

"They solve one problem by creating another," said Sami Askari, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and member of his Islamic Dawa Party. "This is a seed for civil war."

Read the rest at the LA Times