So the assault on Fallujah is underway, with the taking of the town's hospital, "a refuge for insurgents and a center of propaganda against allied forces," according to the Times.Joining in the attack were "two companies from the Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion." It's a group that's mentioned constantly in war reports from Iraq -- most recently, in last month's (very temporary) taking of Samarra.So who are these guys? Defense Tech recently spoke with an Army officer, present at the 36th's creation, to get the scoop."The 36th was originally known as the 'political battalion,'" he said. That's because it was formed from the militias of five major political groups in Iraq: Iyad Alwai's Iraq National Accord (INA), Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which backs Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the two main Kurdish groups, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). About 110 soldiers were originally culled from each group.Because of the group's diverse roots, it's supposed to be the "most reliable" of the Iraqi forces. But, in reality, only a segment of the 36th has really been trustworthy the Kurdish fighters known as pesh merga. In an early operation, the U.S. Army officer recalls, about 60 of SCIRI's soldiers fled; so did 30-40 each from the INA and INC. But between the two Kurdish groups, only 11 dropped out, total.Further battles have, hopefully, hardened the 36th's resolve. But they likely haven't eased the resentment that Iraqi Arabs feel towards the Kurds, and their participation in the unit. "I will send my brothers north to kill the Kurds," a Fallujah insurgent told the Washington Post (via Iraq'd), after the April assault on the city, to which the 36th contributed."The 36th was supposed to grow and become the center of the [Iraqi] national armed forces, not beholden to the warlord leaders," the U.S. Army officer notes. But with these warlords jockeying for position in advance on the January elections and with Arab-Kurd tension still running high the 36th remains a fractured group, still loyal to their chieftains. "We're coming to depend on them," the American officer says, "And they're not beholden to the central government."THERE'S MORE: Back to Iraq's Chris Allbritton reminds us that the 36th's "Kurdish members also have a reputation for brutality, and [for] shooting anyone in the field of fire. The Kurds don't mind killing a few civilian Arabs -- it's payback time."
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