Prelude to a Police State in Iraq

Prelude to a Police State in Iraq

Iraqi Security Forces are riddled with corruption, and if the US involvement continues, Baghdad could become the capital of a Shiite police state employing the classic methods of dirty war.


Virtually ignored in last week’s national debate on the US military surge was a report by military experts recommending that the Iraqi police service be scrapped because of its brutal sectarian character. The scathing report stopped short of acknowledging that continuing US support for the Iraqi Security Forces is in violation of the 1997 Leahy Amendment barring assistance to known human rights violators.

So far Representatives Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee have raised the issue with HR 3134, a bill that would end funding for the repressive Iraqi security forces. The Center for American Progress, headed by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, takes the same view in its July document Strategic Reset. Perhaps the most important sign of rising awareness is the new willingness of Senate leader Harry Reid to remove the provision for funding American trainers in the timetable legislation he is co-sponsoring with Senator Russell Feingold.

The little-noticed report exposes the lethal nature of the counterinsurgency doctrines promoted by Gen. David Petraeus and the official warfighting manual developed in collaboration between the Army, the Marines and Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

In comparison with past public outcries about “tiger cages” and Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, death squads in El Salvador and Honduras, or ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, there is little or no attention today to the issues raised in the new report. All the major Democratic presidential candidates support maintaining thousands of American trainers embedded with what the report calls “dysfunctional and sectarian” forces. In short, whether intentional or not, all the major proposals on Iraq are based on a lower-visibility, lower-casualty dirty war reminiscent of Algeria, Central America, South Vietnam and, today, Afghanistan.

General Petraeus was the commander of US transitional forces in 2004-05, in charge of training, arming and organizing Iraq’s military and police forces. A scandal involving tens of thousands of missing weapons on Petraeus’s watch has been pursued by the American Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction since that time. A Petraeus subordinate, Col. Theodore Westhusing, committed apparent suicide on June 5, 2005, leaving a note that said, “I cannot support a [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuses, and liars…. I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

The new report thoroughly documents the violence, ethnic hatred and lack of transparency surrounding the Iraq Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for some 300,000 police, national police and border enforcement services, many of whom are tied to the Shiite militias of the Badr Brigade, the paramilitary arm of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq [SICI], which the Americans empowered after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Called “The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq”, the September 7 document was issued by retired Marine Gen. James Jones and a panel of some thirty top military experts, many with thirty years’ experience. The media noted its primary assessment, that the Iraqi army was progressing but would require another twelve to eighteen months before being combat-ready. The explosive sections of the 130-page, single-spaced report were ignored. They are quoted here extensively.

From Chapter Seven, on the Ministry of Interior itself:

The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership. Such fundamental flaws present a serious obstacle to achieving the levels of readiness, capability, and effectiveness in police and border security forces that are essential for internal security and stability in Iraq.

From Chapter Eight, on the 230,000-member Iraqi Police Service, jurisdiction over which passed from the State Department to the Pentagon in March 2004:

This was unprecedented historically, the departments of Justice and State have taken the lead in training indigenous police forces. Placing the military in charge…has resulted in greater emphasis on counterinsurgency operations than on civil policing and more traditional law enforcement activities.

This basically means that the police are directly involved on the Shiite side in the complex civil war against the Sunnis, i.e., “civil policing is fundamentally different than military policing…civil police are trained to use defensive techniques, and to use deadly physical forces only a last resort. In contrast, military police are focused on force protection, intelligence gathering, and support of combat soldiers and combat operations.” The police follow the model of an occupying army more than that of community-based policing.

From Chapter Nine, on the 25,000 National Police, including the former Special Police Commandos, who are 85 percent Shiite:

Despite efforts to reform the Iraqi National Police, the organization remains a highly sectarian element of the Iraqi Security Forces and one that for the most part is unable to contribute to security and stability in Iraq. The Iraqi National Police is almost exclusively Shi’a….

In its current form, the National Police is not a viable organization. Its ability to be effective is crippled by significant challenges, including public distrust, sectarianism [both real and perceived], and a lack of clarity about its identity….

The National Police should be disbanded and reorganized under the Ministry of Interior.

From Chapter Ten, on the Department of Border Enforcement, charged with policing 2,268 miles of land border and thirty-six miles of coastline:

The Department of Border Enforcement and the Ports of Entry Directorate face significant challenges and are not yet providing adequate border security for Iraq….

Corruption is a serious problem at many land ports of memory. This fact has not yet been adequately addressed….

Corruption and external influence and infiltration are widespread. Absent major improvements in all these areas, Iraq’s borders will remain porous and poorly defended….

On the Ministry of Interior itself, which is supported by a ninety-member Civilian Police Assistance Transition Team, established in 2004:

[T]he MOI is rife with political and sectarian intrigues and is struggling to be even partially effective as a government institution….

The Coalition Provisional Authority invested considerable effort into restructuring the MOI, but focused largely on the physical reconstruction of the building itself…. There is very little sense of momentum in transitioning greater responsibilities to the MOI. The ministry’s physical presence–its multiple floors reportedly controlled by different factions, its location near Sadr City, and its multiple security checks and heavily armed occupants–is itself a symbol of its dysfunction, sectarian character, and ineffectiveness….

Under the previous Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, who is now the powerful Minister of Finance, the Ministry of Interior became politicized. Jabr was a member of the Badr Organization and a member of [SCIRI]…. He gave key ministry posts to members of the Badr Brigade, and Badr Brigade militia infiltrated Iraqi police units in many areas of the country. Although current Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani wants to reform and professionalize the ministry, this is his first senior government position; he reportedly has no political affiliation or natural political constituency, and he lacks personal experience in managing police units….

It has been described as an “11-story powder keg of factions”…. The security environment at the MOI is so dangerous that when Western officials visit the ministry they frequently wear body armor and move only under heavily armed escort….

Although Minister al-Bolani has attempted to address the sectarianism and corruption in the MOI…the fundamentally sectarian nature of the ministry endures. For example, a former National Police general continues to work at the MOI, despite his having been implicated in a covert detention center [ed. note: secret prison] in 2006; the Interior Minister blocked his arrest warrant….

The Commission surveyed the Coalition’s senior field commanders to obtain their on-the-ground assessment of the status and progress of the Iraqi Security Forces. Asked to rate the progress made by MOI forces toward ending sectarian violence and achieving national reconciliation, all four respondents rated progress as unsatisfactory.

In the same week of September, the Government Accountability Office reached similar conclusions in its benchmarks report to Congress:

The government has not eliminated militia control of local security, eliminated political intervention in military operations, ensured even-handed enforcement of the law…

The Bush Administration itself admitted the sectarian character of the Baghdad regime in the fine print of its own July report to Congress on progress toward the benchmarks:

[There is] evidence of sectarian bias in the appointment of senior military and police commanders [as well as] target lists emanating from the Office of the Commander in Chief that bypassed operational commanders and directed lower-level intelligence officers to make arrests, primarily of Sunnis.

The same conclusions were reached by a bipartisan sixteen-member Congressional oversight subcommittee:

Though there is strong evidence that many of the police are operationally ineffective, and their organization is riddled with corruption and sectarian influence, as of March 2007 [thirteen months after the “Year of the Police” began], the Coalition turned over vetting, screening, and basic training to the Ministry of the Interior.

All this seems to be evidence of a deep moral failure to recognize that the Baghdad regime, whose security forces are funded with $19 billion, is a massive human rights violator by its nature. As that fact becomes known, more and more legislators will become reluctant to fund a permanent police state.

On March 22, 2006, President Bush declared that “as they stand up, we’ll stand down.” The problem is not that the Iraqi security forces need more training; the problem is that they are standing up–as a Hydra-headed Frankenstein.

There seems to be no intention to “reform” them further, a task that has failed to show progress for four years. Instead, General Petraeus seeks to deliver crippling blows to the insurgency and secure control of the population with what the Pentagon calls “gated communities,” where the population can be completely surveilled, monitored and controlled. This marks a departure from the previous doctrine of Gen. George Casey of standing down when Iraqis stand up, to the new Petraeus doctrine of defeating the insurgents and imposing harsh controls on the Iraqi population. If the United States succeeds, Baghdad may be the capital of a Shiite police state employing the classic methods of dirty war.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy