TWAW: "America's militias"
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MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shia fighters in central Baghdad now battling the Shia Medhi Army and death squads from other Shia factions and doing it all under contract to the U.S. Army.
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FOREMAN: On Friday, Michael Ware reported on a dramatic development on the streets of Baghdad. But are these new allies a strong foundation for a political solution or just an alliance of convenience in preparation for a new and deadlier civil war? Michael is standing by in our Baghdad bureau right now and he joins us, and joining me in London is Michael Yon, an independent journalist who has just returned from Iraq.
Michael Ware, let me start with you. What is really different now?
WARE (on camera): We're now seeing that of the 200-plus concerned citizens groups, which are America's militias, 13 percent of them are Shia. And 12 percent of the total are mixed Sunni-Shia.
Now all of these militias, Sunni or Shia are a curb against the death squads, the spread of Iranian influence, al Qaeda, and they are a stick with which to beat this government which is not cooperating with America, Tom.
FOREMAN: Interesting point, Michael. Let's look at the map as we always do to give people a sense what we're talking about. Generally, and it's not very accurate in the big picture, but this is generally how you divide the country. The Kurds are up north over here. The Sunnis tend to be over in this side. The Shia tend to down in this area.
Michael Yon, what about this Michael Ware that talking about, this idea of Sunni and Shia somehow beginning work a little better together in this process? Is that happening yet, or is that overstating it?
MICHAEL YON, MICHAELYON-ONLINE.COM: I think it's false to call these America's militias. You do see these things springing up spontaneously actually. There has been some spontaneous growth of you might say militias up in Nineveh Province that has not been reported. In fact it just kind of popped on the radar about 10 days ago and some of these things, they are just homegrown, they are popping up on their own. People trying to secure their own areas.
Now in some places like Anbar Province, they are trying to bring the militias into the police forces, taking them in, screening them, taking fingerprints, for instance, and eye scans and other places like Diyalah Province, doing the same. Trying to fold them into the police force.
Because the fact is, Iraq is for Iraqis, and so the militias are formed, they are trying to take care of their own neighborhoods in many cases. And without a strong central government, there is really no other way. You either leave it to anarchy or you try to help organize in the ways you can.
FOREMAN: So, Michael Yon, would you characterize these then though as sometimes mixed militias or are they still predominantly Sunni or predominantly Shia even when they form sort of naturally to defend a neighborhood?
YON: It depends where you are at. Certainly, for instance, Basra, they are Shia. You get up out in the western parts of Nineveh Province, and they would be Sunni or down in Anbar Province. They would be Sunni.
Down in south Baghdad, in the Rashid area, there is numerous very small fractured groups here and there in the various neighborhoods and so it's very hard to characterize. Some are just what you might call neighborhood watches and they are very small groups. Others are just, you know, outside of the cities, they might be just a village, for instance, that has organized to defend its village.
And so it's a very complex mixture, and it's hard to actually put your finger on what it is, because it's so broad.
FOREMAN: Let's move on and talk about some of the bigger militias that we've talked about before. Particularly Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army.
This week General Petraeus said something really quite astonishing about someone who was considered such an enemy before. Listen to this.
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GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: The Sadr trend stands for service to the people, not extortion...really thinking through how can this movement rid itself of those who have tarnished its reputation.
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FOREMAN: Michael Ware, are you surprised to hear him talking this way about Muqtada al Sadr, who was once sort of public enemy number one as far as U.S. troops were considered?
WARE: No. Not at all. Indeed, the Americans have had a very complex and mixed relationship with Muqtada al Sadr and his Sadrist movement almost since it first emerged. Indeed, well over a year ago, a cell was formed in the U.S. Embassy to target Muqtada and his movement and try and bring him into the fold. Now Muqtada is one of the great opportunities lost for the Americans here in Iraq. Unlike the other major Shia militias which are directly linked to Iran, according to U.S. military intelligence, Muqtada is purely homegrown. His father, his uncle, himself, they stayed here in Iraq, under Saddam and his father and uncle paid for it with their lives. That gave him a strong home base--
FOREMAN: Michael Ware, let me interrupt you, though, with a question on that, though, if I can. You say that he's an opportunity lost, though. Why lost? He seems to be cooperating now. He called a cease-fire, he seems to be helpful.
WARE: Yes, because now he's under so much pressure. Muqtada of 2007 is not the Muqtada of 2004. The Iranian Revolution Guard and their Quds Force has been extremely effective at undermining his power base, both within his own militia structure and indeed, even within his own political structure. So now Muqtada is looking for friends. Now, Muqtada could have been bought off or brought over to the American side years ago, but there was no preparedness for that kind of engagement. Now there is.
Now, Muqtada's motivation is that essentially the Iranians have been hollowing out his military moment. And indeed the greatest threat to security right now according to the U.S. commanders is the special groups. These are the splinter groups from Muqtada's organization who he's lost control over. They are the ones who tried to kidnap Americans, they are the ones holding the five Brits according to U.S. commanders, Tom.
FOREMAN: OK. Michael Yon. I want to get back to you for one last question on this, some of the late news this week was U.S. military was looking at all of these Sunnis who have not been welcomed in to the security forces run by the Shias and who seem to be itching for a chance to have real jobs and the American military is now saying let's develop some sort of civilian job corps where we will start employing a lot of these Sunnis.
Will that be enough to make Sunni communities continue cooperating and saying, OK, we now have a living for our young men and their families, this will be progress, even if the central government didn't give it to us?
YON: Well, I've heard many Sunnis complaining that they have difficulties getting hired for the police force. But that depends, you know, on what area you're talking about. For instance, again, not a problem out in Anbar Province, but it can be problematic in some places in Baghdad.
One of the huge difficulties, of course, right now, is that the economy is in shambles, even though it's improving. And so the people do need jobs, of course. When they don't have jobs, they are going to resort to crime and kidnappings and the things that they have been doing quite a while. So anything that you can do to give them hope will be helpful.
FOREMAN: Michael Yon, very briefly. It seems like if you can get them involved in some kind of public works project, it could also help with issues like water and electricity and all of those things that have been problems. Fair enough?
YON: Fair enough. You know, money is very important at this point in the war. The violence is going down. But we've really got to pour the money in as quickly as possible. But spending it smartly so that the people do see hope. I mean, we're at a possible major turning point here in the war, as long as we don't take our foot off the gas.
FOREMAN: All right. Michael Yon, thank you so much. Make sure you check out his website, michaelyon-online.com. Really interesting. And Michael Ware, as always, thanks for being here.