I feel like we've been here before. We'll probably be back in 25 years to overthrow the militarty regiem controlleing Iraq.AGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 30 ? Stung by Friday's deadly car bombing, American and Iraqi officials said today that they were discussing the possibility of forming a large Iraqi paramilitary force to help improve security in the country.
Iraqis involved in the talks said the force could consist of thousands of Iraqis already screened by the various political parties for prior affiliations with Saddam Hussein's government. Iraqi officials said such a militia could ultimately take control of Iraqi cities from American soldiers.
Some Iraqi leaders said a force of several thousand men, most of them with military experience, could be ready in little more than a month.
"The situation has changed, and there is a new receptiveness to the idea," said Mudhar Shahkawt, a prominent Iraqi exile who took part in the discussions today. "This force could move inside the cities and allow coalition forces to withdraw to places outside."
American officials acknowledged that discussions were under way, but declined to talk about them in detail. They suggested that for the talks to succeed, they would have to address American worries about unregulated, untrained bands of armed men operating under separate commands around the country.
Security details "should be unified, and they should be recognized as Iraqi security forces, and not belonging to individual groups or parties," said Charles Heatley, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority here.
The fear among the Americans has long been that the militia groups, far from bringing order to Baghdad, would attack one another.
Plans for an Iraqi militia have already been in the works, to guard such things as power plants and troop convoys. But the Iraqis said the force under discussion could be much more ambitious.
One difference being discussed, the Iraqis said, is to deploy members to various parts of the country, instead of relying on local unregulated militias now at the disposal of political parties.
Several questions remained unresolved, including who would command the forces, the American military or the interim government.
The discussions about an all-Iraqi security force followed the devastating car bombing in the holy city of Najaf on Friday, when 82 people were killed and 95 were listed as wounded. Prominent among the dead was Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, one of the most revered leaders of the world's 120 millions Shiite Muslims and a political moderate who had showed himself willing to deal with the American occupiers.
The attack, coupled with the repeated assaults on Americans and Iraqis here, has prompted leaders of several political parties to declare that they have lost confidence in the ability of the Americans to protect their leaders and sacred places.
Today, they began to demand that Iraqis become more involved in security. Indeed, some political leaders said they might be unable to keep their own followers from moving against their enemies, especially if the attacks continued.
"The knife is at our neck," Said Nael Musawi, a Shiite religious leader, told a group of American soldiers guarding the gate of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad, as thousands of demonstrators swirled about them. "I don't know how much longer I can control my people."
The Iraqi force under discussion today could be drawn from the several militias already maintained by many of the leading Iraqi groups and political parties. These militias are sometimes used to control turf, fight petty crime and settle political scores. They are often composed of undisciplined young men, some of them fired by religious zeal.
The young radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr has an unknown number of militiamen in a group called Jaish Mehdi, and Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress still commands the loyalties of hundreds of Iraqi fighters trained to assist American soldiers in the war.
Mr. Musawi's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, maintains its own militia as well, called the Badr Brigade, whose members are believed to number in the thousands. Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of the leaders of the party , said today that it was "seriously reconsidering" its policy of restraining its militias.
The party, known by its acronym Sciri, is considered an important moderating force in Iraq, not least because its representative on the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is the brother of the slain ayatollah.
Mr. Mahdi, speaking at a news conference, indicated that his party's tolerance for the disorder in the country was running out. "I cannot say that Badr has already spread its forces in the street," he said, referring to the party's militia. "But Badr's people are Iraqis, and they will join Iraqi forces."
The tug of war over security that unfolded in the streets and the meeting rooms seemed to raise central questions for the American occupation. Faced with a guerrilla insurgency by supporters of Mr. Hussein, the Americans have found themselves hard-pressed to protect their own people and the rest of the country.
Now, with the car bombing Friday outside the Imam Ali shrine, one of Islam's holiest sites, the Americans seem unable to guarantee the safety of the most sacred places in Iraq.
The bombing in Najaf was the third such deadly car bombing in Iraq in little more than three weeks. On Aug. 19, the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was bombed.
Part of the problem, American and Iraqi officials say, is a severe shortage of Iraqi police officers, who have gradually been taking over responsibility for security from the American forces. The 37,000-man Iraqi police force is still short some 18,000 officers, and the Americans recently announced a crash program to fly an equivalent number of Iraqis to a special police academy in Hungary to train them. But the entire force will not be in place for 18 months.
The United States is also considering a greater role for the United Nations in Iraq. On a visit to Italy, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said today, "Regarding the possible participation of international forces in Iraq under U.S. command, we don't see anything wrong with this." But he added, "It would require a decision from the U.N. Security Council."
In the meantime, Iraqis say they would be better able than Americans to track down former members of Mr. Hussein's government and to prevent terrorist attacks.
The Americans say they want to hand over responsibility for security to an official Iraqi government. And on that front, the Americans have been frustrated; despite their urging, the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council has yet to agree on a cabinet that could begin to take responsibility for police protection and security.
As American and Iraqi political leaders talked today, the questions were being contested on Baghdad's streets. Thousands of Iraqis marched today across the Jumhuriya Bridge over the Tigris River and to the gates of the Republican Palace, where the Governing Council meets. There they mourned their leader, Ayatollah Hakim.
At the edge of the crowd, young cadre of the radical Mr. Sadr's movement seemed at once to be trying to keep order and to disrupt it. On one end of the crowd, they pushed the marchers back whenever they got too close to the American barbed wire.
Yet in the crowd itself, Mr. Sadr's men weaved in and out, denouncing the American forces, blaming them for Ayatollah Hakim's death and urging them to leave the country.
Over to the side, a leader of Mr. Musawi's Sciri party looked on with a troubling glare.
"These people are getting the crowd excited, " said the leader, Abdul Rad al-Haideri. "They can't be allowed to do that."