Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Iraqi Militias Must Go
Back in 2004, the Mahdi Army consisted of only a few thousand members, mostly young street hoodlums attracted to Muqtada al Sadr because his father was a well-respected ayatollah who was executed by Saddam Hussein.
Those of us working the perilous streets of Baghdad that year were disheartened when our bosses decided to leave the Mahdi Army untouched because al Sadr indicated he would turn to politics. We didn’t believe he or his militia would ever disarm and he launched two uprisings that year. Many Americans were killed or wounded by his militia thugs.
Now Muqtada’s private army is conservatively estimated to consist of around 60,000 members. That doesn’t include the sympathizers among Iraqi civilians or the family members who help sustain and equip these black-uniformed killers. It also doesn’t include the Iranian advisors who provide arms, ammunition and training to their Iraqi revolutionary brothers – just as they did in 2004.
Al Sadr owes his life and the lives of his fellow Shiites to the American and Coalition forces, but he has refused to deal with the United States. This ungrateful fundamentalist only wants to lead the ultimate Shiite theocracy he sees simmering beneath the surface of the Iraqi political landscape. Any cooperation at all is only because it is in his interests for the moment while he pursues his own agenda.
While al Sadr hides in Iran, the new Iraqi Army has done reasonably well against his militia, even though some of the fundamentalists are surely within the military’s ranks. With Sunnis working with the Coalition for the most part to steadily wipe out the foreign fighters, one of the biggest remaining issues remains the in-fighting among the Shiites. Clearly, many of these Shiites – like al Maliki – have begun to realize that a functioning democracy is the only way to prevent a bloody civil war.
We have been correct to stay the course and we must continue to do so as long as freedom-loving Iraqis work with us. American and Coalition military forces can never impose a democracy on the people of Iraq because democracy is a free-will choice of the people of any nation.
If the average Iraqi citizen wants liberty, then he must be willing to fight for it as well. The Mahdi Army and the other militias must be squashed once and for all, but the Iranian influence in Iraqi society will always remain concealed in the shadows.
SFC Chuck Grist