Here's a Marine major's online diary about events in and around Fallujah. The part about Fallujah, where the U.S. military decided to let a local militia run the city after intense criticism of our military effort there (and high Marine casualties) is particularly interesting.
"Initially, it was confounding. However, a very interesting dynamic has developed," Maj. D.G. Bellon writes. "Since we have stayed out of Falluja and focused elsewhere, the mujahadeen have had their run of the town. As they have had no one to fight, they have turned their criminal instincts on the citizens. The clerics who once were whipping these idiots into a suicidal frenzy are now having to issue Fatwas (holy decrees) admonishing the muj for extortion, rape, murder and kidnapping. It is unfortunate for the "innocent people" of Falluja but the mujahadeen have betrayed themselves as the thugs that they are by brutalizing the civilians. There are, in fact, reports of rape, etc from inside the town.
"While the muj are thugging away inside the town, we are about 1/2 mile away paying claims, entering into dialogue and contracting jobs. The citizens come outside the city for work and money and are treated like human beings. They go back inside and enter a lawless hell. In short, the muj have done more to show the people what hypocrites they are in a few short weeks than we could have hoped for in a year. The result is more and more targetable intelligence. If we are given the green light, we can really go to town on these guys (no pun intended). However, as much as we would like to do just that, the optimal solution is to empower the Iraqis to take care of it themselves. That is precisely what we are doing."
I haven't written much about events in Fallujah because it has been so unclear what our motives were in ceding control to a local militia and what has actually been happening in the city. But if the trends Bellon recounts stand up over time, then taking a less confrontational approach toward local militias might, at least in the short run, prove to our advantage. Looking further out, it still seems essential that the U.S. and the new Iraqi government gain the upper hand over the various armed factions. But, as Bellon suggests, the firsthand experience of ordinary Iraqis with the militants in their midst might make that longer-term goal ultimately more achievable.