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Monday, August 20, 2007

U.S.-Backed Plan for Sunni Neighborhood Guards

BAGHDAD, Aug. 18 — The United States is pressing ahead with an American-financed effort to recruit and pay local Sunni Arabs to protect neighborhoods in districts scattered across a wide swath of central Iraq.

The initiative has generated deep skepticism in some members of the Shiite-led Iraqi government, who fear that the strategy could intensify the already intense sectarian warfare here.

The American military says it is not arming the new forces, at least initially, but in some areas, tribal groups bring their own weapons.

On Saturday, in the ravaged Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliya, freshly recruited members of the local force were on display in crisp new cargo pants and flak jackets during a visit by the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker. Both made it clear that the United States sees the creation of the so-called Guardian forces as a major new initiative to improve security on the streets of Iraq.

The effort is loosely based on successes the United States has had in Anbar, the desert province where Sunni tribes have been paid to ally themselves with American-led multinational forces in fighting insurgent groups. In an interview in the back of a tiny shop in Ghazaliya, General Petraeus said that the United States was pressing to set up Guardian forces in places where the tribes were not strong or prevalent enough to serve as a backbone of the program.

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In Iraq, government on the local level has begun to show great signs of progress. But on the national has made some advances, it is still slugish and remains the big problem in Iraq.

AUDIO - Bush speaks about the current status of Iraq.