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Iraq: President, PM Praise Shi'a and Kurdish Militias

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari yesterday publicly praised Shi'a and Kurdish militias for their contribution in maintaining security in the country. The comments -- made at a congress of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Shi'a-led Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) -- come at a time of tension between Sunnis and Iraq's newly empowered Shi'ite majority.

Prague, 9 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi leaders say they credit the Kurdish peshmergas and the Iranian-trained Badr Organization with helping to restore security in the country.

At the same time, Prime Minister al-Ja'fari reiterated that the government wants to see Iraq grow even safer -- as proof to the world that the country is ready to handle its own affairs.

"Our Sunni brothers and all the sects of Iraq should exert every effort to find a suitable security situation that will prove to the world that Iraq is capable of dealing with its own affairs. So, there will be no need for the presence of [foreign] troops here and whenever our security capabilities improve and we start to improve it, there will be no need for the presence of the foreign troops," al-Ja'fari said.

However, some observers suggest that publicly backing the Shi'a and Kurdish militias might actually have the opposite effect -- Sunnis will feel even more threatened, and the country will grow even less stable.

Jeremy Binnie, a Middle East analyst with Jane's "Sentinel" in London, describes Talabani and al-Ja'fari's stance as controversial.

"Its [support for the militias] would seem to be a little bit controversial, in terms that the Badr Brigade -- or the Badr Organization, as it is now known -- was accused last month of killing and intimidating Sunni clerics. Obviously they denied those accusations from the Association of Muslim Scholars, but in terms of a president and a prime minister -- Iraqi Kurd and Iraqi Shi'a - praising their respective militias, it would seem a relatively controversial thing to do, for the leaders of a country on the whole," Binnie says.

Last month, Harith al-Dhari, the head of the Sunni Arab Muslim Scholars Association, accused the Badr Organization of attacking Sunnis.

However, Talabani yesterday brushed aside accusations, describing the Shi'a and Kurd fighters as "the faithful sons of this country." He also said the two groups are "the heroes of liberating Iraq."

The Badr Organization, SCIRI's military wing, was formed in the 1980s to fight the former regime of Saddam Hussein. There are no accurate figures on the size of the group, but it is thought to be smaller than the Kurdish peshmerga militia, which is estimated at 100,000 members.

Yesterday, the Badr Organization marked the second anniversary of the self-proclaimed transformation from military wing of SCIRI to a political group.

However, Binnie says it is unlikely that Badr Organization has disarmed. He says the rebranded group maintains a strong military capability.

"[Badr] sort of rebranded itself as a sort of organization that helps the people, rather than an armed militia now. I think no one really believes that they gave up their weapons, and they don't have some kind of military capabilities still," Binnie says.

Binnie says the U.S. administration is opposed against any militias in the country, a provision that is included in Iraq's Temporary Administrative Law.

However, the analyst says it is unlikely that the country will be militia-free as long as the Sunni insurgency is under way and no political, ethnic, or sectarian group feels safe.

"I don't think we'll really see much progress on that until the sort of Sunni insurgency is dealt with. The militias that aren't creating much trouble or are of some use to people in power will carry on operating until the security situation improves," Binnie says.

Binnie also says political parties and organizations will continue to keep their militias "as a sort of contingency."