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The Sons of Iraq Are Warlords

You bless ex-insurgent militiamen, start paying them, and before you know it, you’ve got a series of warlords. Admirable as it is to buy people off rather than take incoming fire from them, reality is reality. And that reality is on display in a great Alexandra Zavis piece for the Los Angeles Times:

Residents credit cooperation between the American soldiers and the dancing gunmen, members of a U.S.-funded Sunni neighborhood guard force, for a turnaround in security in Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab enclave in Shiite-dominated east Baghdad that until recently was on the front line of the Iraqi capital’s sectarian war.

But doing business with the gunmen, whom the U.S. military has dubbed Sons of Iraq, is like striking a deal with Tony Soprano, according to the soldiers who walk the battle-blighted streets, where sewage collects in malodorous pools.

“Most of them kind of operate like dons in their areas,” said 2nd Lt. Forrest Pierce, a platoon leader with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. They shake down local businessmen for protection money, seize rivals for links to the insurgency and are always angling for more men, more territory and more power.

For U.S. soldiers on the beat, it means navigating a complex world of shifting allegiances, half-truths and betrayals.

Both David Petraeus and Ray Odierno entirely reject my characterization of the Sons of Iraq’s behavior. We’ll see if they have anything to say on the matter at Thursday’s confirmation hearings for both generals.

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