BAGHDAD - Iraq's Shi'ite-led government declared yesterday that after restive areas are calmed, it will disband Sunni groups battling Islamic extremists because it does not want them to become a separate military force.
The statement from Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi was the government's most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the groups backed and funded by the United States as a vital tool for reducing violence.
The militias, more than 70,000 strong and often made up of former insurgents, are known as Awakening Councils, or Concerned Local Citizens.
"We completely, absolutely reject [the militias] becoming a third military organization," Obaidi said at a news conference.
He added that the groups would also not be allowed to have any infrastructure, such as a headquarters building, that would give them longterm legitimacy. "We absolutely reject that," Obaidi said.
The government has pledged to absorb about a quarter of the men into the predominantly Shi'ite-controlled security services and military, and provide vocational training so that the rest can find civilian jobs.
Integration of the forces would also allow Sunnis to regain lost influence in the key defense and interior ministries, the officials said.
"We've kicked Al Qaeda out and we don't want chaos to take their place," said Sheik Hate Ail, a tribal leader who helped form one of the groups in Anbar Province.
He added that the government should not "brazenly exploit the sacrifices of these Iraqi" fighters and "should absorb these people, not reject them and send them away."
The government has been vague about its plans and the interior ministry has agreed to hire about 7,000 men so far on temporary contracts, and plans to hire an additional 3,000. But the ministry has neither specified the length of the contracts nor the positions the men would fill.
The Sunni irregulars have contributed to a 60 percent drop in violence in the last half of the year, along with the infusion of thousands of US troops and a six-month cease-fire by firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
In a separate development, the State Department's top official on Iraq said senior officials in the Iranian government have decided to rein in the violent Shi'ite militias it supports in Iraq, the
David Satterfield, Iraq coordinator and senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said Tehran's decision does not necessarily mean the flow of weapons from Iran has stopped, but the decline in their use and in overall attacks "has to be attributed to an Iranian policy decision."
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said that the decision, if directly confirmed by Iran, would be a good beginning for a fourth round of talks between Crocker and his Iranian counterpart that are expected to be held in Baghdad in the next few weeks.
Thousands of Baghdad residents took advantage of the newfound sense of security yesterday to leave their homes in droves and pack the capital's parks and amusement rides.
"I wish peace and prosperity to our beloved country Iraq and hope all our brothers, sons, and families who live abroad come back and God willing, during the next Eid all Iraqis will come together and peace, security, and brotherhood will prevail," Abdul Jabbar Kadhim, an employee at the Dora oil refinery, said as he played with his children in a riverside park.
But although there have been far fewer attacks, violence has by no means been eradicated.
A suicide car bomb exploded at a checkpoint manned by Iraqi Army soldiers and police in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyah yesterday afternoon, killing four people and wounding six, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.
The dead were two civilians, a police officer, and a soldier, while the wounded included two police officers and two soldiers, the officer said.
On the southern outskirts of the capital, a roadside bomb injured five bystanders near a hospital in the town of Madin, police said. It was unclear what the target was. To the north in Mosul, another roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed one officer and injured two others, local police said.