Commander Urges Disarming Iraq Militias


The second ranking U.S. military commander in Iraq said Wednesday that it is imperative to disarm militias, but that the Iraqi government must decide when it should be done.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who oversees U.S. military operations throughout Iraq, is one of a number of senior generals who have been pressing for Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to make a decision on how to deal with militias.

"We have to fix this militia issue. We can't have armed militias competing with Iraq's security forces. But I have to trust the prime minister to decide when it is that we do that," Chiarelli said.

Murders and executions are currently the number one cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad and much of the violence has been attributed to death squads, many of which are thought to be offshoots of mainly Shiite militias.

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, on Wednesday said operations against sectarian death squads have been stepped up as part of a Baghdad security plan known as Operation Together Forward.

Areas targeted have become calmer, but violence has surged elsewhere in Baghdad, he said.

"We are seeing an increase in attacks, as anticipated. The terrorists and illegal armed groups are punching back in an effort to discredit the government of Iraq and more specifically the Baghdad security plan," Caldwell said. "Murders and executions are currently the number-one cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad."

Since mid July, 29 death squad cell leaders, and 254 members, have been killed or captured, he said.

"Iraqi security forces are making a concerted effort to defeat the insurgency and stop sectarian violence," Caldwell said. "Specifically Iraqi security forces are taking the fight to death squads within the Baghdad area."

But some senior military officials, including the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, have said that al-Maliki and Iraq's politicians have to do more.

"Militias are holding the rule of law in contempt. We're pushing this government to get a policy as to how they're going to deal with it so their own people know how to deal with the militias," Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman told The Associated Press last week.

©2006 Associated Press