The American soldiers in Amiriyah have allied themselves with dozens of Sunni militiamen who call themselves the Baghdad Patriots -- a group that American soldiers believe includes insurgents who have attacked them in the past -- in an attempt to drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles.
To many American soldiers in Amiriyah, this nascent allegiance stands out as an encouraging development after months of grinding struggle. They liken the fighters to the minutemen of the American Revolution, painting them as neighbors taking the initiative to protect their families in the vacuum left by a failing Iraqi security force. In their first week of collaboration, the Baghdad Patriots and the Americans killed roughly 10 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq members and captured 15, according to Kuehl, who said those numbers rivaled totals for the previous six months combined. He is now working to fashion the group into the beginnings of an Amiriyah police force, since the mainly Shiite police force refuses to work in the area.
But aligning Americans with fighters whose long-term agenda remains unclear -- with regard to either Americans or the Shiite-led government -- is also a strategy born of desperation. It contradicts repeated declarations by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that no groups besides the Iraqi and American security forces are allowed to bear arms. And some American soldiers worry that standing up a Sunni militia could have dire consequences if the group turns on its U.S. partners.
"We have made a deal with the devil," said an intelligence officer in the battalion.