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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interim Iraqi Militia Set To Ease Pressure on U.S.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The United States is creating a new Iraqi civil defense force within the next 45 days that is intended to free up thousands of American troops for anti-guerrilla missions and to put an Iraqi face on the occupation's postwar security efforts, two top American generals said Sunday.

The immediate goal is to field about 7,000 American-trained militiamen to protect supply convoys and replace American troops now guarding power plants and ammunition depots.

The new Iraqi Governing Council has strongly supported creating an Iraqi militia, which appears to go well beyond a proposal under consideration at the Pentagon to hire private contractors to provide security at sites around the country.

The persistent violence, two months after President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat, was underscored Sunday when two soldiers were killed and one wounded in an ambush near Mosul in the north. Also on Sunday, an Iraqi driver for a UN agency died when his convoy was attacked near Baghdad.

In the southern city of Najaf, U.S. marines found themselves in a standoff with more than 10,000 mainly Shiite demonstrators, angered by rumors that American troops had harassed a cleric who had condemned the American-led occupation.

The plan to establish an Iraqi civil defense force reflects the Pentagon's urgent priority to quell the mounting attacks against American troops and to use an interim Iraqi force to help do that until a larger Iraqi national army is formed in the coming months and years.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is nearing the end of a five-day mission in Iraq, has heard repeatedly from tribal and civic leaders that the occupation authority must give Iraqis a greater role in governing and securing their country in order for the American-led effort to have credibility with the Iraqi public.

Establishing the militia as an interim Iraqi force is an acknowledgment that training and mobilizing an Iraqi national army will take years to accomplish. Bush administration officials in Washington and American commanders in Iraq say they cannot afford to wait that long.

Under the American plan, eight battalions with about 850 Iraqi militiamen each will train under and then work with army divisions in various regions around the country, said Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of allied forces in Iraq. After 45 days, the second group of eight battalions, or nearly 7,000 more militiamen, could be recruited and trained, Sanchez said.