Kurdish Militias Poised to Take on Sunni Triangle

The US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, flew to Washington this week for urgent consultations on the mounting security crisis in the country. Addressed were the rising casualty toll of US and coalition casualties from guerrilla attacks and the withdrawal of international organizations from Baghdad in the wake of two devastating terrorist bombings this month of the Jordanian embassy and UN headquarters in the Iraqi capital.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports two crucial decisions as emerging from those consultations:

  1. To deploy Kurdish fighting militias in the towns of the Sunni Iron Triangle of central Iraq, Tikrit, Fallujah, Ramadi and Balad , from which Saddam loyalists as well as a mixed legion of Syrian, Arab, Saudi, Chechen and al Qaeda are launching guerrilla warfare on American troops. The Kurds will not enter Baghdad or the Iranian border town of Baquba.

  2. The schedule for the transfer of ruling powers to an indigenous Iraq government will be dramatically tightened.

According to our military sources, the Kurdish fighters will take charge of security in the towns of Saddam Hussein’s old heartland in the uniforms of local police officers.

The first 5,000 militiamen will be deployed in the first ten days of September after undergoing anti-guerrilla combat and urban guerrilla training in Kurdistan from US special forces instructors. By the end of November, the Americans plan to build up the Kurdish force to 12,000 to 15,000 men who will fight alongside US forces. They will be put up by the two main militias, Jalal Talabani’s PUK and Masoud Barzani's PDK. (They each command some 25-30,000 fighting men, altogether 50-60,000 Kurdish militiamen under arms).

The decision to turn to Iraqi Kurdish militias was taken in Washington in view of the difficulty of raising international fighting strength for Iraq fast enough to meet current crisis – if at all.

(See also separate article in this issue on the Turkish force.)

The Bush administration, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, is not eager to publicize the fact that the police units scheduled to take up security duties in the storm center of Iraq are made up mainly of Kurdish militiamen, in view of weighty difficulties.

  1. The administration in Washington and Baghdad are fully alive to the potential shocks to Iraq’s internal ethnic and religious balance and the possibility of Iraq’s Shiite majority as well as the Turkmeni Sunnis and other minorities rising up in arms when they discover the proximity of a Kurdish military presence to Baghdad.

  2. Only four months ago, the Bush government turned down a plan proposed by the first US administrator, General Jay Garner, to insert 10,000 Kurdish troops into Baghdad immediately after its capture. He claimed that no other force was available and capable of bringing order to the capital, putting down the looting and lawlessness and preventing the remnants of the Iraqi army and Baathists from mounting a guerrilla war. He was brushed aside and his plan judged as carrying too high a risk of exacerbating an Iraqi civil war.

Garner made way for Bremer, who has turned back to the Kurdish solution under the pressure of the mounting guerrilla threat, with one big difference: The Kurdish tribesmen will not be allowed to enter Baghdad.

As to the transfer of governance to Iraqis, Washington proposes shortening the timetable for installing an Iraqi government from six to three months, that is the coming November instead of February 2004. Many difficulties face this process, chiefly in two spheres: Achieving a consensus among the various ethnic and religious groups over the internal composition of the government and the allocation of portfolios. Most factions are united in their opposition to the American plan to appoint Ahmed Chalabi as interior minister. Although he is a Shiite, most of his own community objects to the appointment.

The other difficulty is presented by the lack of regional acceptance of any American-appointed or sponsored Iraqi government. Thus far, no Arab government or ruler, aside from Kuwait, shows any willingness to extend a hand to any post-Saddam Iraqi administration. Without the recognition of some of Iraq’s Arab neighbors, the new government in Baghdad will find it hard to acquire domestic legitimacy.

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