Some stand at mosque gates, warily cradling AK-47 assault rifles
while their comrades frisk the faithful filing in to noon prayers.
Others join US soldiers in the hunt for remnants of Saddam Hussein's
regime. Still more are hidden in the Iraqi countryside, awaiting
Some are in uniform; some wear civilian clothes. Some carry their
guns openly; others have cached their weapons against the day when
they might need them. Some support the US; some violently oppose it.
But all of these men are loyal to one of the various militia
groups in Iraq that could pose serious threats to American plans for
a peaceful transition to democratic rule. "If the Americans don't
impose their authority on the people, militia groups will spring up,
and there will be a lot of trouble," warns Khasro Jaaf, head of the
Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) Baghdad office. "They will grow up
around the political parties here."
Organized armed groups come in many shapes and sizes in Iraq, and
they have no trouble finding guns. This country has been awash with
weaponry for many years - former President Hussein armed loyal
tribesmen, fedayeen militiamen, and other supporters - and the
collapse of the last government left military armories open to
On the Baghdad black market today the most casual potential
customer can find a Chinese-made AK-47 for around $25 (a Russian
model costs double that) and 200 rounds of ammunition for a dollar.
The most official of the unofficial armed groups currently
operating in Iraq - and the most sympathetic to the US - is the
armed wing of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the US-backed
former opposition group led by Ahmed Chalabi that spearheaded exile
efforts to topple Hussein.
Known as the Free Iraqi Forces (FIF), dressed in camouflage
uniforms and traveling in pickup trucks draped with the same
fluorescent orange flags that identify coalition military vehicles,
the militiamen take orders from US Central Command, according to
Zaab Sethna, the INC spokesman here. Around 1,800 of them work
alongside US troops in several cities around Iraq, tracking down
remaining Baath Party fighters, guarding supply depots and assuring
law and order.
US officials have said they see the FIF as the potential nucleus
of a reformed Iraqi army. "We are not currently recruiting because
we don't have the resources and logistical facilities to handle new
recruits," says Mr. Sethna. "But we are overwhelmed with
applications, and we could put together a force of 15,000 men within
Operating independently of the American forces, and increasingly
hostile to them, to judge by the words of their leaders, are the
Shiite Muslim armed groups that have sprung up in Baghdad and
throughout southern Iraq over the past two weeks.
They say they take their orders from religious leaders based in
the holy city of Najaf, and their prime task so far has been to
impose law and order, since no central government authority yet
exists. In the predominantly Shiite northeastern district of
Baghdad, for example, hundreds of armed men, mostly in civilian
clothes, guarded worshipers at an outdoor noon prayer session last
Friday. They claimed to be the tip of an iceberg some 5,000 to 6,000
strong in their part of the city.
Better trained and established is the Badr Brigade, an Iranian-
backed Shiite force estimated at 10,000 men, of whom some 2,000 are
thought to be in Iraq now. They attacked Iraqi forces from the rear
in the south of the country during the war, although they do not
appear to have coordinated their operations with the coalition.
The Badr Brigade owes its loyalty to Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-
Hakim, head of the Tehran-based Supreme Council for an Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). …