U.S. tries again with Iraqi force, this time emphasizing consensus

Thursday, May 13, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military has tried to win support from Shi'ite leaders to rebuild the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

U.S. officials said the military hopes that Shi'ite tribal leaders and clerics will help recruit and even sponsor combatants for the ICDC. They said this could rebuild confidence in the force following its collapse during the Shi'ite revolt in April.

The model for the ICDC effort, officials said, would be the 36th Battalion of the ICDC, based in Faluja, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the 36th Battalion fought rather than fled from combat because they were largely recruited and stationed by Kurdish groups in northern Iraq.

"So we found that the 36th Battalion model may have some utility, and we have taken it because the 36th was ours as well, and we've taken it now down to center-south," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division, said on Tuesday.

"We've engaged with the political party leaders, we've engaged with the tribal sheiks and the religious leaders. What we're doing is we're going from consensus, to participation, to ownership. The first time around we went from participation and tried to get to ownership. We never did build consensus. We are now building consensus, and I think you're going to find over time it will become a better model."

About half of the ICDC refused to fight and officials said about 10 percent defected to either Shi'ite or Sunni insurgency forces. As a result, much of the Iraqi force requires reconstitution as well as new weapons and equipment.

Officials said the defection rate within the ICDC was highest in the Shi'ite pilgrimage cities of Karbala and Najaf. They said the entire ICDC battalion defected in Karbala and about 50 percent fled the fighting in Najaf.

The new ICDC recruitment policy was meant to bring Shi'ite leaders into the security process. In addition, officials said, Shi'ite clerics might also decide to contribute members of Shi'ite militias to the ICDC. In one case, Shi'ite leaders were asked to contribute 2,500 militia members to the police and ICDC in southern Iraq, officials said. The largest Shi'ite militia is the Badr Army, operated by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Officials said they would not discount allowing elements of the Mahdi Army of Iranian-backed Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr to help form two ICDC battalions in Najaf. The Mahdi Army was said to comprise 600 combatants.

"We have approached the stakeholders and given them numbers," Dempsey said. "We've asked them to provide a certain number of young men by party, by tribe, and they have about a week now to give us the numbers."

Officials said the reconstitution of the ICDC units would not require an entire retraining process. They said recruits would undergo two week training as part of an effort to restore the force in Iraqi cities by July.

"We're not building from zero," Dempsey said. "About 50 percent of the pre-existing force did stand tall during the attacks of early April. So we're really building not from ground zero but from about the second floor of this six- or seven-story building."

Officials said the ICDC would have to be provided with advanced military equipment and greater firepower. They said many ICDC members fled from battle because they had concluded that they were outmanned and outgunned by Shi'ite insurgents.

"Some of them are not trained to be shock troops," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "And they end up against some terrorists with AK-47s and our rocket- propelled grenades and then they say, 'Well, the heck with that,' and they move away which is not stupid, it's smart. And yet, some people report in the press as though they ran, or they didn't engage the enemy or they wouldn't fight. Well, my goodness, why should they? If they have uneven equipment and uneven numbers, they shouldn't have. They used their judgment."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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