Your Friendly Neighborhood MilitiaVoice of America is reporting that at least 50 Iraqi lawmakers are urging the formation of neighborhood militias to take over security duties for the (presumably overworked) police and army. This is an interesting story, but it is not a new story as the militia problem has been a long standing issue. This is a significant problem because the right to use force is reserved for the state or its designated agents. A legitimate government has an internally and externally recognized monopoly on the use of force for law and order within the boundaries of the country. There are limits, especially since World War II as to how much force a legitimate government can use internally, but it is seen as legitimate to use force for law enforcement purposes.
Now if new militias are created the hope is that they'll be able to replicate the performance of the RuffPuffs and many other local, rural militias; provide basic security and strong attritional combat against insurgent cells and bands within very limited areas for very low material costs. Even if they are able to replicate this performance, which I doubt as Iraq is an urban insurgency and not a traditional Maoist rural based campaign, this is a further dissapation of the supposed monopoly on the use of force for law enforcement and security purposes.
One of the many goals of the insurgencies is to delegitimize the state through its actions in combating the insurgents. If the state is forced to rely even more heavily on the sectarian party militias beyond the continued heavily reliance on SCIRI units in the South, and Mahdi Army groups of thugs in Sadr City and Maysan Province, this weakens the claims of legitimacy made. These militias, both the theo-political ones and the local neighborhood militias do not have primary loyalty to the government or at least the conceptualization of an effective central government. Instead the primary motivation to fight is for the benefit of a sub group that could be as broad as an ethnic identification as in the case of the Kurdish peshmerga or it can narrow to the family unit in the case of the East Haifa Street 3 Brothers Militia.
With this said, it is not a new development; non-governmental military forces have been a consistent factor militarily, economically, socially and most importantly politically since the fall of Baghdad in April of 2003. The Pentagon tried to set up the exile forces of Chalabi as a legitimate security force but they were incompetent and not trusted by anyone who mattered. Since then, the Baghdad government has heavily relied on the Badr Brigades to maintain some semblence of order in the south and the Peshmerga to cover most security duties in the north. The other major militias were never disarmed. Force has not been monopolized to anyone, so the state is weak. This week's stories of new militias forming are just a continuation of the trend of decentralization and weakening of the central government.