The U.S. campaign to turn Sunni Muslims against Islamic extremists is growing so quickly that Iraq's Shiite Muslim leaders fear that it's out of control and threatens to create a potent armed force that will turn against the government one day.
The U.S., which credits much of the drop in violence to the campaign, is enrolling hundreds of people daily in "concerned local citizens" groups. Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arabs joined a security pact with U.S. forces Wednesday, reportedly the largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began.
About 77,000 Iraqis nationwide, mostly Sunnis, have broken with the insurgents and joined U.S.-backed self-defense groups. As many as 10 groups were created in the past week, bringing the total to 192, according to the U.S.
U.S. officials said they were screening new members, who are generally paid $300 a month to patrol their neighborhoods, and were subjecting them to tough security measures. The officials said they planned to cap membership in the groups at 100,000.
But that hasn't calmed mounting concerns among aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who charge that some of the groups include terrorists who attack Shiite residents in their neighborhoods. Some of the new "concerned citizens" are occupying houses abandoned by terrified Shiite families, they said.
It also hasn't quieted criticism that the program is trading long-term Iraqi stability for short-term security gains.
"We have tens of thousands of people who are carrying weapons on a contract basis, and when their contracts are finished where will they go?" asked Dr. Safa Hussein, al-Maliki's deputy national security adviser.
At a glance
The latest news in the war in Iraq:
Suicide bombing: Seven U.S. soldiers and five Iraqi civilians were wounded when a female suicide bomber blew herself up near Baqouba, the U.S. military said.
Cholera worries: The U.N. raised new concerns Wednesday about a possible outbreak in Baghdad ahead of the rainy season.
Journalists surveyed: American journalists covering Iraq say they face unprecedented dangers, and many have worked closely with Iraqi colleagues who have been killed or kidnapped, according to a survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Most of the 111 survey participants, veteran war correspondents with experience in Afghanistan, Gaza and Lebanon, called the war in Iraq their most dangerous assignment ever.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007