When a militia is not a militia?
Dr. Mustafa Alani
Director, Security and Terrorism Program
Militia is a word with negative connotations these days and no militia likes to be described as such. In most cases, this term implies a group of armed men behaving like outlaws and conducting its business outside the state's control. This is especially true in relation to the Iraqi political scene. The reality dominating the current situation in Iraq is that the state's structure is weak -- in fact, too weak -- and there is a continuing, invisible battle for control and influence between the state and militias.
Iraq was once a strong state controlled by a dictatorship with a firm grip over the state and society. It was a state where power rested in the hands of a strong central government which depended on and was supported by strong military and security institutions. There was no room for private political militias. However, in a short span, Iraq has become a divided state ostensibly ruled by a "legitimate government" which has been "elected" and now functions under the overall authority and protection of the occupation forces. The 'new' Iraq is unlike 'old' Iraq where power, security and arms possession were the sole responsibility and exclusive right of the state's institutions. In the new Iraq, the ordinary citizen has become a victim of the struggle between the terrorism of the 'pro-state' and 'anti-state' militias.
'State terrorism' is no longer practiced by the apparatus of a strong police state or a small clique of thugs clustered around a dictator. The new form of state terrorism is widely and effectively practiced through the armed militias belonging to the ruling political parties. At the heart of the matter lies the question of loyalty to the state and the belief in its viability. Iraqi militias, as most militias around the world, have no loyalty to the state, or if they do, such loyalty is low priority. Instead, the main focus of their loyalty is the promotion of the narrow interests of the political group they represent. Further, militias cannot coexist or function alongside a strong central government. Therefore, the basic objective of militias is to do everything possible to undermine the possibility of establishing a strong and effective government, or strong national armed forces and they work hard to ensure that they achieve their aim, whatever the price.
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