US working with tribal forces to stablize Sunni areas in Iraq

Washington Post:

The U.S. military in Iraq is expanding its efforts to recruit and fund armed Sunni residents as local protection forces in order to improve security and promote reconciliation at the neighborhood level, according to senior U.S. commanders.

Within the past month, the U.S. military command in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq ordered subordinate units to step up creation of the local forces, authorizing commanders to pay the fighters with U.S. emergency funds, reward payments and other monies.

The initiative, which extends to all Iraqis, represents at least a temporary departure from the established U.S. policy of building formally trained security forces under the control of the Iraqi government. It also provokes fears within the Shiite-led government that the new Sunni groups will use their arms against it, commanders said.

The goal is to put the new, irregular forces in place quickly -- hiring them on contracts and providing them with uniforms without waiting for access to lengthy police and army training programs.

In the long term, commanders say, the goal is to incorporate the units into the Iraqi security forces. The initiative arises out of efforts underway by some U.S. military units to enlist forces from local tribes as well as insurgent groups in different neighborhoods, most of which have been predominantly Sunni.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, called the development of the grass-roots forces the most significant trend in Iraq "of the last four months or so" and one that could help propel slow-moving efforts at national reconciliation among Iraq's main religious sects and ethnic groups.

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This is an important change in Iraq policy that should help stabilize the Sunni areas. We are learning a hard lesson that Saddam had to relearn in Iraq that the key to stability is to work with the tribal leaders. Our failure to do so earlier in the war led to fighting by the so called Iraqi rejectionist. It was one of the bigger mistakes we made.

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