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Iraq promises to disband militias, but not yet

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, March 4 (Reuters) Iraq today pledged to disband sectarian militias and integrate them into the country's US-trained security forces, a move that has been promised several times in the past but never successfully carried out.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabor, who has been accused of allowing a Shi'ite militia to operate from his ministry, announced the decision, but at the same time said he saw no need to hurry with the break up of the powerful and feared militias.

''The ministry is ready to receive a limited number of militias and distribute them to avoid the gathering of militias in one area,'' said Jabor, a member of Shi'ite Islamist party SCIRI, which oversees the Badr movement, a Shi'ite militia.

He said former militia members would be reassigned to posts with the Iraqi police, border protection, special forces and criminal investigation.

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has accused the Interior Ministry of condoning anti-Sunni death squads and says Badr members who have infiltrated police units have killed hundreds of Sunnis in purges around Baghdad. Shi'ite officials strongly deny this.

Jabor, who said he would be chairing a committee to study the demobilisation, said disarming militias would take time.

As well as Badr, several other militia groups operate in Iraq including the Mehdi Army, allied to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the peshmerga, a vast Kurdish military force. In all, around 100,000 people are tied to militias.

''This subject needs time. There is no reasonable justification for any fear towards the militias at the present time,'' he told a news conference, playing down what many Iraqis see as a very real threat.

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