BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A new Iraqi military force being proposed to tame Fallujah's guerrillas could bear a striking resemblance to the guerrillas themselves.
The band of about 1,000 Iraqis would be led by one of Saddam Hussein's generals, and its U.S.-funded payroll might include some of the same gunmen who have been fighting U.S. Marines.
In a move resembling U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the United States appears to be co-opting its enemies to end a siege that has drawn international condemnation.
A U.S. military officer privy to the negotiations said it was "very likely" that the Fallujah Protective Army, which would fall under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, could include some gunmen who joined the uprising in Fallujah -- particularly criminals who signed on for money, and former soldiers disgruntled at losing their jobs when the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that "hardcore" fighters and Islamic militants would not be included.
U.S. military authorities said an agreement to end the fighting in Fallujah was "tentative," even after the Marines said it had been completed. As negotiations continued, U.S. airstrikes targeted insurgents in the city.
U.S. Marines are supposed to pull back from Fallujah, although if the new deployment works out, they could come back in joint patrols, said Marine Capt. James Edge.
The development makes possible the bizarre scenario of U.S. Marines patrolling alongside some of the same people they were shooting at earlier this week.
The tentative agreement came as the United States was barraged by international pressure to prevent a revival of the bloodshed seen in Fallujah in the first two weeks of April.
It copies Washington's strategy in Afghanistan of giving armed militias cash and autonomy in exchange for keeping nettlesome areas quiet.
In this case, once-hostile sheiks in Iraq's vast and lawless western Anbar province have been coaxed to make common cause with the United States, a senior U.S. military official said.
"We have in Afghanistan hired away militia," the official said. "If we've got some sheiks in al-Anbar that want to be part of the solution, that may be helpful."
The fighters would receive salaries paid by the United States, said the official, who had no word on any incentive bonuses promised to end the standoff.
The Fallujah Protective Army would move into U.S. Marine positions and erect a new cordon around the city, Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said. Eventually, the new force would try to take control of rebel-held parts of the city.
Byrne identified the commander of the new force only as Gen. Salah, a former division commander under Saddam. He said he did not know the general's full name, but a Lt. Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri, a native of the Fallujah region, served as governor of Anbar province under Saddam and was a senior commander in his military.
Byrne called the formation of the Fallujah army "an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem."
As Iraqis, "they know the populace, they know the terrain."
It remains to be seen whether the new force could wrest control of the city from as many as 2,000 rebels, most of whom wouldn't likely be joining the new force.
The U.S. siege of Fallujah, launched April 5 after the killing and mutilation of four American contract workers in the city, has killed hundreds of Iraqis, including many civilians, according to hospital sources. At least eight Marines have been killed.
U.S. civilian and military leaders blame the battle on foreign fighters and terrorists.
But aid workers and reporters in Fallujah reported seeing little or no evidence of a foreign presence, saying the guerrillas were Iraqis fighting a legitimate battle against U.S. occupation. The U.S. military has released no evidence of a foreign presence in the city.