Most people agree that one of the most critical and complicated challenges our new government will have to deal with is the issue of the militias that are affecting the life of Iraqis on daily basis and are arguably representing the main security breach, and I also believe that these militias have become a burden even on their political affiliates who are becoming less and less in control of the militias especially on crisis times.
Everyone is calling for disbanding these militias and to integrate them into government security forces, but the facts on the ground are decided by a number of factors that makes this proposed dismantling and integration process more complex than it may appear for the first time.
The first factor is the status of the government security forces which are not ready yet to handle the security demands and this fact makes some trends in Iraq consider the presence of these militias necessary for passing this stage and this factor was recognized by the new PM himself when wondered how would he ask people to disarm when the government is not yet able to provide security; this may seem reasonable for the people who are part of-or close to-these militias but I as a citizen who doesn't carry a weapon disagree with this take because in fact what I see here is that security is breached mostly by those armed groups whose arms do not seem defensive to me at all.
I can never find justifications for possessing mortars, missiles or land mines, these are not defensive weapons and I can only see them being used in disrupting security in the attacks that kill civilians everyday in Iraq.
This is why I see that using the inability of the government forces to provide security as a pretext for keeping militias is unacceptable at all because as the official forces grow, we see that militias grow simultaneously and not the other way around thus I'm cautious of statements that use this factor to justify keeping the militias intact.
The second factor that might obstruct the process is the difference in opinions about the mechanism of integration; while some call for integrating militias into the official security forces (an option backed by Ayatollah Sistani) we hear other parties that insist on avoiding this route and suggest integrating them into the civil institutions.
I personally prefer the second mechanism because if members of these militias became part of the security forces they will certainly not contribute to stability and will only do more harm than good to the reputation of the police and army because a conflict in loyalties will be inevitable in my opinion.
The other factor that needs to be dealt with is the rejection of some parties to the whole idea; this includes groups like the Mehdi militia who describe themselves as an "ideological army" and not a militia. Actually I do not know where this classification came from and I view it as a mere linguistic maneuver that changes nothing from the facts on the ground. The other group is the militias affiliated with al-Qaeda and these are involved in major crimes and had burned the ships behind them so to speak.
This is why I think a major confrontation with such groups is not unlikely in the near future especially if the disarming is to be proceeded with soon.
The new government has a good chance that must be seized and invested especially that the MNF shares the same interest in getting rid of these militias since all withdrawal plans of the MNF are so connected to the level of stability that is inversely proportional to the power of the militias.
The biggest challenge will be in Baghdad and surrounding suburbs but good results can be achieved through a well studied, long-term plan that focuses on cordoning and searching districts one at a time, activating the anti-terror legislations to arrest and prosecute everyone that possesses unlicensed weaponry. And it would be a good idea to offer a suitable deadline for voluntary disarmament; this measure can probably be tested first with personnel of the former army, security forces and republican guards as most of these still have weapons or are aware of the whereabouts of weapon caches. These people still receive payments from the government as a replacement of the salaries they used to get, so these payments can be used in a weapons-for-money kind of trade, this way they can be told to hand over their weapons or at least sign an agreement to cooperate with forces that will do future searches.
When the deadline expires, I suggest dividing Baghdad into sectors and thoroughly search one sector at a time and announce that everyone found possessing illegal weapons will be detained and prosecuted under the anti-terrorism laws; I think one professionally-conducted practice like this (with an announced plan for more to come and publicly announced results) will motivate other districts to come forward and give up their weapons.
This mission will require a lot of planning, time, effort and money to accomplish but it is of top requirement for building stability and rule of law and can prepare the atmosphere for the next steps of building the institutions of the nation.