Sydney Morning Herald & Telegraph [London]
The largest Shiite party in Iraq has refused to disarm its militia of 25,000 men after a United States draft directive called for all armed groups except the Kurdish peshmerga fighters to surrender their weapons.
Relations between the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and US administrators in Baghdad were at breaking point at the weekend after the group rejected moves to force the Badr Brigade to disarm.
US officials had regarded Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, SCIRI’s representative in the interim government, as their greatest hope of forging a relationship with the Shiites.
But delegates described furious exchanges between General David McKiernan, the commander of land forces in Iraq, and SCIRI leaders at disarmament talks with all seven parties in the interim government.
Hamid Al-Bayati, a spokesman for SCIRI, said: “Over the past week US troops have stormed up to a dozen SCIRI offices across Iraq confiscating money, arms and vehicles. They have arrested members of Badr forces.”
Mr Bayati said the organisation was fast losing patience with the American presence. “The longer Americans remain here, the more they are at risk from terrorist attack,” he said.
He said that over the past few months SCIRI had been in meetings with the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. “We have committed ourselves to democracy. Of course I dream of an Islamic state but we now realise that is not an option.”
The Americans have little alternative than to deal with SCIRI, whose leader, Ayatollah Mahammed Baqir al-Hakim, returned from exile in Iran two weeks ago to a hero’s welcome. While representatives have little common ground with the US administrators, they are sophisticated, educated and claim to want secular government.