Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Iraq PM says no militias exempt from disbanding

BAGHDAD, May 30 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Tuesday no pro-government party militias would be exempt from his plan to disband irregular armed forces, a vow that could put him at odds with close coalition allies.

"Every militia which is loyal to a party is a militia," he told Reuters in an interview.

"We must have one decision: when we say 'militia' we mean all those who are armed other than the army and police."

Pressed to confirm that even the biggest militias run by governing parties would have to go, he specifically named the Kurdish peshmerga, the Mehdi Army of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite Badr movement as being among those that would have to be disbanded.

Referring to Law 91, a measure passed by the U.S. occupation authority, he said that spelled out 11 political militias that would have the right to have their members join the official security forces rather than simply be thrown out of work:

"There are 11 political parties under Law 91 who are regarded as having militias and the right to merge them into the police or army, including Badr, the Mehdi Army and peshmerga."

Law 91, which Maliki said in his government programme he would implement in full, says all such militias must disband.

Kurdish leaders, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have said that their peshmerga would not be affected by the national unity government's decision to ban all militias.

They say their force, which defended their territory from Saddam's troops through the 1990s, is now an official body of the Kurdistan regional government and that the new Iraqi constitution gives such federal entities the right to have their own forces -- not unlike U.S. states' National Guard troops.

The Sadr organisation and the Badr movement's political allies, SCIRI, are among the main three components of the dominant Shi'ite Alliance bloc, along with Maliki's Dawa party.

"Our plans on the militias must go ahead because the presence of militias ... will mean the security situation remaining unstable. The militia disarmament plan is linked to reconciliation and development in security," Maliki said.

He held out the prospect, however, of favourable treatment for armed groups which fought Saddam's "tyranny" -- that would seem to include the peshmerga and Badr forces -- from those which arose in the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq.

The once dominant Sunni Arab minority accuses Shi'ite and Kurdish militias, some working through their roles in the police, of persecuting their community and running death squads.

Maliki said on being sworn in 10 days ago that he would restore a monopoly of force to the Iraqi state to prevent the country sliding into anarchy.


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