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Shi'ite, Kurdish officials doubt US strategy

3 US soldiers killed in Iraq bombings

BAGHDAD -- Shi'ite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations yesterday about the new US military strategy to partner with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"They are trusting terrorists," said Ali Al Adeeb, a prominent Shi'ite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. "They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Throughout Iraq, a growing number of Sunni groups profess to have turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq because of its indiscriminate killing and repressive version of Islam. In some areas, these groups have provided information to Americans about Al Qaeda members or the deadly explosives that target the soldiers.

The collaboration has progressed furthest in the western province of Anbar, where US military commanders enlisted the help of Sunni tribal leaders to funnel their kinsmen into the police force by the thousands. In other areas, Sunnis have not been fully incorporated into the security services and exist as local militias.

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs, and direct assistance from US soldiers. In Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, a local group of Sunnis, the Baghdad Patriots, were driven around earlier this month in American and Iraqi vehicles and given approval by US forces to arrest suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members.

One of the main unanswered questions for American commanders leading these efforts has been to what degree the Iraqi government would support their plans to turn local Sunnis into neighborhood defense forces.

In an interview Friday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Newsweek magazine that some American field commanders "make mistakes since they do not know the facts about the people they deal with." Maliki went on to say that arming the tribes is appropriate in certain circumstances "but on the condition that we should be well aware of the tribe's background and sure that it is not connected with terror."

Other Shi'ite politicians are openly opposing the strategy.

"We cannot take weapons from certain insurgents and militias and then create other militias," said Abbas Bayati, a Turkoman Shi'ite lawmaker who is part of the majority bloc in Parliament. "You need to open recruiting centers and provide training; now what is going on is giving weapons and money to the tribes and individuals."

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator, acknowledged the potential benefits of reducing Al Qaeda's strength in Iraq but said of Sunni groups: "They take arms, they take money, and in the future they will be a problem. Politically, they are still against the Americans and the Iraqi government."

One senior Iraqi government official described the US military policy to partner with local Sunni groups as "nonsense."

"Every three months they have a new strategy. This is not only a distracting way to conduct policy, it is creating insecurity for all. I don't think these strategies have been thought through deeply. It is all about convenience," the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"In reality, they are forcing the Iraqi government and the Shi'a and the Kurds to reconcile with the Saddamists," the official added. "This is similar to going to the South in 1865 and forcing the Confederates to reconcile immediately with the Northerners. And this is not going to happen."

American military commanders involved in the new partnerships with Sunni groups say they intend to quickly train and register them under the aegis of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force. In Anbar Province, the tribesmen have received training and become policemen, and receive their salaries from the Interior Ministry, according to US military officials. US military officials have said that as long as the Sunni groups are watched closely, the intelligence they provide about Al Qaeda makes them valuable.

Mithal Alusi, a secular Sunni lawmaker, said he supported the US military efforts because "Al Qaeda is danger number one in Iraq."

"The prime minister has to understand this is not a one-man show," Alusi said.

Meanwhile, Iraq's violence continued yesterday. A car bomb exploded west of Baiji in northern Iraq, as an Iraqi military convoy was targeted, said Captain Raad Al Janabi of the Siniyah police. The blast killed four people, including two soldiers, and wounded 12 others, he said.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives amid a crowd near Fallujah, killing six people and injuring 14 others, according to Lieutenant Mohammad al-Dulaimi of the Fallujah police. Dr. Mohammed Ismael, of the Falluja h general hospital, said many of the injured were in critical condition and the death toll could rise.

The US military said three American soldiers were killed on Saturday by explosions, two in Baghdad Province and one in Kirkuk Province. Another soldier was wounded in the Baghdad attack.

Also over the weekend, US-led forces killed 10 suspected insurgents and detained 20 while finding bomb making materials during a series of missions targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq in Baghdad, Mosul, Anbar Province, and elsewhere, the US military said.

In one operation targeting a suspected Libyan militant near Karmah, west of Baghdad, US troops took fire from seven people in a building, and then responded by killing six and wounding the other, the military said. While searching the premises, they found grenades, bomb making material, and a heavy machine gun .