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U.S. takes Anbar model to Iraqi Shiites

A variation on a successful effort appears to be curbing attacks south of Baghdad.

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"The more successful this is, the more the locals will embrace this thing and guard it more closely," says Army Lt. Col. Beau Balcavage, the stocky battalion commander.

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At $500,000 per month, the program is far cheaper, he points out, than replacing a Humvee damaged by a roadside bomb – not to mention loss of life or limb.

At a recent recruitment drive, Americans traveled to a nearby school. When they arrived, more men showed up than were expected, and one, wide-eyed and hopeful, had to be turned away because he was too young.

Many military analysts did not believe the Anbar model, where Sunni sheikhs sided with the Americans, could be easily copied elsewhere – or within other sects.

During testimony in Washington in early September, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top US general here, acknowledged that it's hard to copy that success. "While Anbar is unique and the model it provides cannot be replicated everywhere in Iraq, it does demonstrate the dramatic change in security that is possible with the support and participation of local citizens," he said.

Anbar model with a twist

The program in Babil Province is as much the same as the one in Anbar as it is different.

There, Sunnis largely motivated by self-preservation are signing up in droves, not only to protect themselves from extremists such as Al Qaeda in Iraq but also for the empowerment it provides to Sunni tribes who feel isolated from the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Sunnis there are given a one-time $150 payment; a bag of food; and a T-shirt.

Under a different command, the military here pays a daily rate to both Sunni and Shiite. But among the Shiites, there is more concern about security than central government indifference. Many simply want the work: At $10 a day, it is an appealing jobs program in this agrarian area where date palms and pomegranate trees outnumber buildings.

But the program comes with inherent risk and also indicates that the US military can only do so much to sustain a secure environment before the government of Iraq must accept that responsibility for itself.

While the hope is that these individuals will be folded into the Iraq security forces, it's not clear if the political infighting that has crippled the government of Iraq will allow that to happen right away. And if the 90-day contracts expire, without renewal or without government sponsorship, and the citizens lose their jobs, the paid-for loyalty could also lapse.

Colonel Balcavage says that won't happen initially because he will renew the contracts if he has to. Ultimately, however, it will be up to the central government to step up, according to military officials in Baghdad.

Long-term success?

"We think the [concerned citizens] are the best solution all across Iraq," says Sheikh Yusif Fadel, a Sunni who, like many, is distrustful of the government of Iraq and doubts it will pay for the program, because Sunnis make up so much of it.

American officials say they have early assurances that the Iraqi government will support the program. It's only a question of convincing it that it is a security program, not an attempt to create armed militias, officials in Baghdad say.

Captain Levine says he believes the program will work, but more important, it has allowed the Shiite to see the impact of their efforts, albeit with US help. "Even if the contract is not renewed, even if the transition to the [Iraqi police] is not successful, they have stepped up, given ownership of their community and they can be proud of it," he says. "They can say 'I can be part of the solution.' "