Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

  Mr. Jabr has not heard of that

The third part in the NYT series on the security debacle in Iraq, another must read, summarizes the situation as it stands today. It also discusses the outlook for bringing order to Iraq. It is bleak.

I will try to identify the salient points, though in this case the picture is so chaotic that it's a bit of a fool's mission to attempt any summary.

Here's a mark of how bad things are in Iraq now. The earlier installments in the series, parts one and two, had lengthy and detailed introductions summarizing their findings. This part, by contrast, gets to its overview only in a roundabout fashion, and then paints with a very broad brush. I suspect that the reporter, Dexter Filkins, despaired of providing a full summary of exactly how chaotic Iraq has become.

And the problem for a reporter is not just the intense fragmentation of the current Iraqi security structure. It's also that these fragments combine and recombine, and nothing is as it seems, so that a stable picture of the situation is beyond anybody's grasp.

Sometimes, the lines between one government force and another — and between the police and the militias — are so blurry that it is impossible to determine who the killers are.

"No one knows who is who right now," said Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents.

The armed groups operating across Iraq include not just the 145,000 officially sanctioned police officers and commandos who have come under scrutiny for widespread human rights violations. They also include thousands of armed guards and militia gunmen: some Shiite, some Sunni; some, like the 145,000-member Facilities Protection Service, operating with official backing; and some, like the Shiite-led Badr Brigade militia, conducting operations with the government's tacit approval, sometimes even wearing government uniforms.

Some of these armed groups, like the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police, often carry out legitimate missions to combat crime and the insurgency. Others, like members of another Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, specialize in torture, murder, kidnapping and the settling of scores for political parties.

One measure of the absurdity of the situation is mentioned almost in passing. The outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr (who has inserted his own Badr Brigade loyalists into the state police forces, whence they've terrorized Sunnis mercilessly), created a special force to guard the Ministry. This is the 28th Battalion, something like a nascent Praetorian Guard.

The [anonymous] American official did not specify which atrocities he believed the battalion was responsible for. "We are very concerned about it," the official said. "They form the core of the death squads."

The official was reluctant to go into detail. American and Iraqi leaders agree that the subject of rogue elements operating inside the ministry is a delicate topic, particularly since they are trying to bring Sunni leaders into the government. Some declined to talk about the 28th Battalion, while others, like Mr. Jabr, said they had not heard of it.

To get the full horror of the interview with Mr. Jabr, you'll have to read the article. It's enough to mention that he was wearing a powder-blue leisure suit as he claimed to know nothing about the brutality of Interior Ministry forces.

The Interior Ministry's police and commando units are not the only dangerous armed forces in Iraq, by a long shot. Every one of the 27 Ministries have their own forces, each numbering in the thousands, which have become like separate armies loyal to their own minister--when they aren't stealing the government blind.

The most dangerous of these are the Defense Ministry's oil-pipeline protection Brigades. There are four that are particularly corrupt. They cooperate regularly with insurgents in blowing up the pipelines they're supposed to be protecting.

Even in a country beset by murder and death, the 16th Brigade represented a new frontier.

The brigade, a 1,000-man force set up by Iraq's Ministry of Defense in early 2005, was charged with guarding a stretch of oil pipeline that ran through the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dawra. Heavily armed and lightly supervised, some members of the largely Sunni brigade transformed themselves into a death squad, cooperating with insurgents and executing government collaborators, Iraqi officials say.

"They were killing innocent people, anyone who was affiliated with the government," said Hassan Thuwaini, the director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry's protection force.

Crackdowns are promised all the time by the Iraqi government, especially by the new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But don't hold your breath waiting on that.

"They need to begin by setting examples," an American official in Baghdad said of the Iraqi government. "It is just very noticeable to me that they are not making any examples."

"None," the official said. "Zero."


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