BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraq’s Shiite-led government said that American-backed Sunni groups key to battling Islamic extremists must eventually disband because it does not want them to become a separate military force.
The groups have helped reduce the carnage in the country, but violence remains a threat.
On Sunday, a roadside bomb in southeastern Baghdad’s predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zaafaraniyah targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed two civilians and wounded four others, a Baghdad police officer said.
Earlier, a local government official in the town of Kut south of the capital escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a bomb exploded outside his house.
Abdul-Ridha al-Badri, director of the human rights ministry’s provincial branch in Kut, his wife and four sons were injured by shattered glass and falling pieces of the house’s facade, a police officer said.
Both police officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information to the media.
Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi’s statement Saturday regarding the Sunni groups was the government’s most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the organizations, which are 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 Awakening becoming a third military organization,” al-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 long-term legitimacy.
“We absolutely reject that,” al-Obaidi said.
The government has pledged to absorb about a quarter of the men into the predominantly Shiite-controlled security services and military, and provide vocational training so that the rest can find jobs. Integration would also allow Sunnis to regain lost influence in the key defense and interior ministries.
“We’ve kicked al-Qaida out and we don’t want chaos to take their place,” said Sheik Hatem Ali, a tribal leader who helped form one of the groups in the western province of Anbar.
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 U.S. troops and a six-month cease-fire by firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Separately in northern Iraq, Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel targets on Saturday, the Turkish military said, in the third confirmed cross-border offensive by Turkish forces in less than a week.
Turkish forces also shelled the border area from inside its territory, but the Turkish military did not say how deep into Iraq the warplanes penetrated in the half-hour raid, or which areas were shelled.
The United States and Iraq have urged Turkey to avoid a major operation in the region, fearing it could destabilize Iraq’s calmest area. Kurdish rebels have battled for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades and use strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border strikes.