Is anyone else amazed at just how many weapons there are floating around in that part of the world?
US occupation authority here is scrambling to put Iraqis in charge of security, but the task is even more complicated than it was just a few months ago, when criminal gangs and Fedayeen fighters terrorized the streets.
Now, impatient with rampant lawlessness, militias have sprung up all over the country, as ubiquitous as machine guns and grenade launchers. In many quarters they're winning more popular support than either the new Iraqi police or US military, even though military officials insist they will disarm militias, including the Badr Brigade.
The paramilitaries may prove difficult to control. In Najaf on Friday, for example, Iraqi police officers deferred to Badr gunmen, who decided which cars would be allowed past checkpoints into the city's holy center.
"For every hundred of us carrying guns here, only five have permission," said Abu Montazar Al-Abudi, the Badr commander directing the fighters who cordoned off Najaf for the busy Friday prayers, searched cars, and prowled with sniper rifles on the mosque's 30-foot-high perimeter walls. "We won't let the Americans take away our guns and stop us from protecting our religious scholars and our people."...
For Nouri Badran, the new Iraqi interior minister who was sworn in Wednesday, the militias may prove the biggest obstacle to establishing credibility and convincing the US-led occupation authority that Iraqis can handle security themselves.
"All Iraqis know security comes step by step," said Lieutenant General Ahmid Ibrahim, who is second in command at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of policing. "Four months ago there was no security at all."
But Ibrahim squirms when asked about the militias. "First we must catch all the criminals," he said. "We are not political. We don't want to deal with militias."