Arrest of Sunni leaders in Iraq

McClatchy breathlessly tries to paint the arrest of two Sunni paramilitary leaders and the subsequent outbreak of violence as a potential "unraveling" of the American strategy of integrating the militias into the military.

The truth is a little more complicated. When we recruited tribal and militia leaders during the Awakening, we were forced by circumstances to enlist the aid of some pretty shady characters; not just militia leaders but heads of criminal gangs that practiced murder, extortion, kidnapping, and other criminal activities in addition to getting their help in fighting al-Qaeda.

Now that al-Qaeda is nearly gone, the Iraqi government is seeking to put its foot down and establish law and order. Some of the Sunni militia heads who doubled as crime bosses are being arrested. It is a delicate matter but negotiations with non-criminal Sunni elements are proceeding and while it is a tense situation, it appears that it is being well managed by US and Iraqi authorities:

Tensions were high in Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood Sunday, where at least 18 people were wounded in hours-long clashes on Saturday and Sunday morning. The Iraqi Army sealed off the district, and helicopters circled in the air, as Iraqi troops surrounded members of the Sons of Iraq and demanded they hand over their arms.

Paramilitary members surrendered by the afternoon and gave up their weapons. They also agreed to allow U.S. and Iraqi militaries to search homes for more arms. They had turned over 10 Iraqi soldiers they'd been holding late Saturday night, said Ali Abdel Razak, a deputy leader of the Sons of Iraq in Fadhil.

The government said it would not release Adel Mashhadani, the commander of the Sunni force in Fadhil, but Abdel Razak said tribal leaders from Anbar to Baghdad were involved in negotiations.

Ali al Dabbagh, the government spokesman, said Mashhadani had led a secret Baathist cell, referring to the party of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, and was creating an anti-government force.

"He killed and terrified the people, he was creating his own forces and leading a Baath party group," Dabbagh said. "We support the Sons of Iraq but we will not agree to these people who are killing."

The U.S. military said Sunday in a statement that Mashhadani - who was on the U.S. payroll for at least a year -- is suspected of criminal acts including extortion and killings.

This is exactly the kind of thing the Iraqi government should be doing - weeding out the criminals and trying to establish law and order. We will see if they can manage a face saving way for the Sunnis to accept these measures but the important thing is that both Shia and Sunnis now have a lot invested in a stable, peaceful Iraq which makes large outbreaks of violence less likely.