BAGHDAD -- Iraqi political parties and coalition authorities are discussing the creation of a 1,000-member militia to bolster the US military's fight against a guerrilla insurgency, US and Iraqi officials said yesterday.
The militia would be formed by uniting fighters from five Iraqi political parties under the joint leadership of the US military and the emerging Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, American officials in Baghdad and Washington said on condition of anonymity.
Also yesterday, US soldiers captured a former Iraqi general suspected of recent contacts with Saddam Hussein. In another raid, Iraqi police and US troops seized a close aide to a radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric who opposes the US occupation.
If created, the paramilitary battalion would represent a significant policy reversal by Washington. The United States previously declared private militias illegal and called on Iraqi political leaders to disband the groups.
The Pentagon's policy chief said yesterday the United States would welcome militia members into the Iraqi security forces as long as they agreed to drop their previous party affiliations.
"We are willing to take people into these forces as long as when they come in they are not operating as members of these other [militia] forces," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith said in Washington.
The militia members would be recruited as individuals, not as intact units, Feith said.
"We are not looking to preserve militias as such," Feith said.
The current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shi'ite Muslim, said the idea of a joint militia was a good one. He said the country's five or so individual militias have won credibility for fighting Hussein's regime for more than 20 years, and could root out that regime's remnants now.
"At this stage, we should try to make use of any force, any tribal clan and any individual that can help," he said, adding that the militias should be centrally controlled, as the Americans have stipulated. "They will have a role to play in the fight against terrorism."
In Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, soldiers from the US Army's 82d Airborne Division captured former Brigadier General Daham al-Mahemdi, once a colonel of the elite Republican Guard who was promoted just before the war, the US military said.
Al-Mahmedi is suspected of keeping in indirect contact with Hussein, while directing guerrilla attacks on US soldiers in Fallujah. Al-Mahmedi was seized without a struggle, along with a pair of AK-47 automatic rifles and other weapons, the military statement said.
In Baghdad, US soldiers and Iraqi police arrested a close aide to a radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt.
Amar Yassiri had been seized in a joint raid in Sadr City, a poor and mainly Shi'ite district in eastern Baghdad which serves as Sadr's main power base.
Kimmitt said Yassiri had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in an Oct. 12 ambush on US troops in Baghdad in which two soldiers died. Kimmitt described Yassiri as Sadr's operations chief in Sadr City, which was known as Saddam City until the US invasion.
Sadr, a harsh US critic, enjoys significant support among Iraq's underprivileged and young Shi'ites. Two months ago, he announced plans to form a rival government but abandoned the idea after drawing little support.
Sadr supporters, who also advocate a strict interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, have staged several large anti-US protests in recent months and clashed with US forces and followers of other Shi'ite clerics.