October 1, 2007
Several nationalist and Islamist armed groups have formed alliances in Iraq in what they say is a move to thwart a power struggle should the US military withdraw and the Iraqi government collapse.
In July, groups including the The Islamic Army, The Army of Mujahidin, The Supporters of Sunni, and the Salafist group for Missionary Action and Fighting, got together to form the Reform and Jihad movement.
This was followed in September by the Change and Reform Front, comprised of eight groups, including The 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Mohammed al-Fatih Brigades. The latter groups include senior members of the former Iraqi Army and Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guards.
Fadil al-Rubaie, a member of the National Alliance, an Iraqi opposition movement in exile, believes that the unification of Iraq's "resistance groups" indicates a turning point after previous refusals by the Islamist groups to merge with nationalists.
"Resistance groups are gearing up to meet that stage, where leading parties will be needed to lead and to prevent a potential militia war among many small groups," he said.
Targeting the government
Abu Anas, a member of the political bureau of Hamas of Iraq, an armed group opposed to the presence of US troops in Iraq, told Al Jazeera that Iraq's armed groups believe a US withdrawal is imminent.
Anas said: "We are looking forward to the fall of the [Nuri] al-Maliki government, and the US withdrawal. We know it is coming, but I cannot predict when and how.
"We do not acknowledge the political process in Iraq and believe it is illegal as long as foreign troops are on Iraq's national soil. We believe that most Iraqis see those troops as occupation troops and want them out of Iraq."
In the past six months, Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, has seen his support dwindle as Sunni and Shia factions continue to withdraw members from both the cabinet and parliament.
Al-Rubaie says that the new alliances are preparing to fill a power vacuum the government has been unable to fill.
"I think they have been watching Maliki's government closely. They know this government position is not that great, and it is losing parliamentary majority. They are preparing for a sort of combined political and military action, which would give them strength on the negotiation table."
Political process important
But Ali al-Awsi, chairman of the South Iraq Study Centre who is close to the Shia-ruling Iraqi Unified Alliance, downplays any notion of the collapse of the Maliki government and insists on the efficiency of the political process in Iraq.
"I do not think Maliki's government is going to fall, it is about parliament majority, and Iraq now is a democratic country," he said.
"We know that Sunni armed groups and politicians are in contact with the Americans, but even this should be credited to the Maliki government, because that connection would not have been useful had it not been for the security progress achieved by the government.
"We all want the US army out of Iraq, but that should be in co-ordination with the Iraqi government."
Abu Anas, however, denies any contacts with the US military in Iraq.
"We have not made any contacts with the US forces, and as far as I know all Iraqi resistance groups have denied such media reports originally produced by western and pro-Iraqi government media outlets," he said.
"The government is talking about progress in security situation; well in fact we should ask who created that insecurity? Were they militias of the ruling parties? So when those parties come under pressure and [start] curbing their militias, should we give them credit for that?"
Meanwhile, military analysts believe the formation of political and military alliances will embolden armed groups opposed to the US presence in Iraq.
Munthir Suleiman, a military analyst and head of the al-Mustaqbal al-Arabi [Arab Future] journal in Washington, told Al Jazeera: "From a military point of view, forming bigger groups means a bigger number of fighters, better logistics, and more weapons."
He also said that with more logistical co-ordination between them, the armed groups could modify their strategies, attacking permanent installations, rather than small mobile targets like convoys and armoured vehicles.
He said: "With the resources now available to them, these fronts could possibly plan for securing towns and villages they take and turning them into bases for them, especially if the general mood in those towns and villages is in the favour of those groups."
The talk of fronts and political alliances, however, seems to carry little weight with Iraqis who continue to flee the country in droves.
They point to a lack of security, clean drinking water, electricity, and a failing infrastructure as reasons behind their flight.
According to Amnesty International, Iraq is suffering from the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world, with as many as 4.2 million people internally displaced, and over 2 million leaving the country.
But for Badriya al-Amiri, 39, an Iraqi housewife, the failure to start schools on time has been yet another sign the country is increasingly dysfunctional.
She said: "Schools just started today, several weeks too late, all that because our country is insecure. I will not send my seven-year-old daughter to school, it is dangerous - I will send only her two teenaged brothers."
She has given up in any talk of political reconciliation.
"We do hope that God will take care of us," she said.