BAGHDAD — The leader of Iraq’s most influential Shiite political party offered surprisingly conciliatory remarks on Thursday about the former insurgents and other Sunnis who have banded together into militias now working with American forces, stating that the groups had helped improve security and should be continued.
In a speech in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the political party that has long been the backbone of the dominant Shiite political alliance, said a main reason for recent security improvements was from not merely depending on official security forces but from relying on tribal groups and local councils.
“We still believe in continuing this strategy,” said Mr. Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
Mr. Hakim’s remarks on Thursday referred to Sunni groups, known as “awakening councils,” which emerged in 2006 in Sunni-dominated western Iraq, and last year spread to mixed Sunni-Shiite areas around Baghdad.
Numbering close to 80,000, the American-backed groups are credited with driving out Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist militants from many areas and helping to reduce sharply the American death toll. Many militia members used to attack American troops, before deciding to join forces with them.
While the rise of these groups has been the most promising development for the American military, the partnership has drawn deep skepticism from the Shiite-dominated central government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The Shiites fear the Americans have created an armed parallel force that one day could turn against the official Iraqi security forces, which are dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Last month, the government declared that it will eventually disband the groups, though it has said it would integrate some members into the official security forces.
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