Check out these respectable young men. They are members of “sahwa” (awakening) – the Iraqi version of Neighbourhood Watch.
The sahwa groups are made up of what the US military authorities call “concerned local citizens”. The streets of Baghdad are dangerous, and the police are pretty ineffective. So the US military fund these sahwa groups to police their own streets.
There are 72,000 members of 300 sahwa groups in Iraq, and these numbers are increasing. It is “Iraq’s own surge” and it is having an effect. Attacks in Baghdad are down 80% since November last year, murders down 90%, and vehicle-borne bombs reduced by 70%.
The sahwa initiative works because each group’s members are patrolling the streets where they live; they have a real interest in combatting crime, as opposed to the police who generally are most concerned with staying alive and maybe receiving bribes.
But, by funding these groups, the US Army is saying it’s okay to be a vigilante. The police are governed by regulations (even if those regs are regularly breached). The sahwa are not governed in the same way. They patrol the streets in large groups, armed with assault rifles, questioning any strangers they come across. Is this really the way to bring peace to the streets of Baghdad?
The US military obviously believe this is the right solution. But American soldiers are there for a tour of duty, then they’re rotated out. They don’t have to live on those streets full-time. Their wives and mothers don’t have to negotiate those streets to get to the market.
If Washington,DC was “policed” like Baghdad, maybe the generals wouldn’t be so blase about what they call “security”. Security for who?