Sitting in his small room in northern Baghdad, a pistol nearby and assault rifles stacked under the bed, Khalil Ibrahim is worried over Iraq’s future.
Six years after the US invasion, Iraqis are contemplating the reality of life after a major milestone — Tuesday’s withdrawal of US combat troops from urban centres.
Glancing at his seven-year-old son playing a war game on a computer in the corner, Ibrahim, a chain-smoking former military intelligence officer, said he has two main worries.
“Iran has good relations with our political parties. They run militias. If the US troops complete their withdrawal, Iran will do whatever it wants in Iraq,” he said, scowling.
Shi’ite-ruled Iran is often accused of arming and funding Shi’ite militias who have killed Sunnis, a charge Tehran denies.
“Also, if the Americans pull out, Al Qaeda will return,” Ibrahim said. He knows the Islamist militants better than most.
As leader of a US-backed Sunni Arab guard unit made up of many former insurgents, some of his men fought with the rebels against the US military, before switching sides and helping drive Al Qaeda fighters out of much of Iraq.
But as US forces increasingly hand control to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite Muslim-led government under a security pact that requires them to withdraw completely by 2012, tensions are rising.
Violence has dropped sharply across Iraq, but militants still launch devastating bombings. They are usually blamed on Sunni Arab insurgents like Al Qaeda, and seem aimed at undermining Maliki’s administration and tipping the nation back into the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07.