BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi political parties and coalition authorities are discussing the creation of a 1,000-member militia to bolster the U.S. military's fight against a guerrilla insurgency, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
The militia would be formed by uniting fighters from five Iraqi political parties under the joint leadership of the U.S. military and the emerging Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (search), American officials in Baghdad (search) and Washington said on condition of anonymity.
Also Wednesday, U.S. soldiers captured a former Iraqi general suspected of recent contacts with Saddam Hussein (search). In another raid, Iraqi police and U.S. troops seized a close aide to a radical Shiite Muslim cleric who opposes the U.S. occupation.
If created, the paramilitary battalion would represent a significant policy reversal by Washington. The United States previously declared private militias illegal and called on Iraqi political leaders to disband the groups.
The Pentagon's policy chief said Wednesday the United States would welcome militia members into the Iraqi security forces as long as they agreed to drop their previous party affiliations.
"We are willing to take people into these forces as long as when they come in they are not operating as members of these other [militia] forces," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith said in Washington.
The militia members would be recruited as individuals, not as intact units, Feith said.
"We are not looking to preserve militias as such," Feith said.
The current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite Muslim, said the idea of a joint militia was a good one. He said the country's five or so individual militias have won credibility for fighting Saddam's regime for more than 20 years, and could root out that regime's remnants now.
"At this stage, we should try to make use of any force, any tribal clan and any individual that can help," he said, adding that the militias should be centrally controlled, as the Americans have stipulated. "They will have a role to play in the fight against terrorism."
In Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, soldiers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division captured former Brig. Gen. Daham al-Mahemdi, an ex-colonel of the elite Republican Guard who was promoted to general immediately before the war, the U.S. military said.
Al-Mahemdi is suspected of keeping in indirect contact with Saddam, while directing guerrilla attacks on U.S. soldiers in Fallujah. Al-Mahemdi was seized without a struggle, along with a pair of AK-47 automatic rifles and other weapons, the military statement said.
In Baghdad, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police arrested a close aide to a radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.
Amar Yassiri had been seized in a joint raid in Sadr City, a poor and mainly Shiite district in eastern Baghdad which serves as al-Sadr's main power base.
Kimmitt said Yassiri had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in an Oct. 12 ambush on U.S. troops in Baghdad in which two soldiers died. Kimmitt described Yassiri as al-Sadr's operations chief in Sadr City, which was known as Saddam City until the U.S. invasion.
Al-Sadr, a harsh U.S. critic, enjoys significant support among Iraq's underprivileged and young Shiites. Two months ago, he announced plans to form a rival government but abandoned the idea after drawing little support.
Al-Sadr supporters, who also advocate a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia laws, have staged several large anti-U.S. protests in recent months and clashed with U.S. forces and followers of other Shiite clerics.