Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, May 22, 2006

  One murder every hour in Basra

The other day I commented on the first in a stunning series of reports in the NYT, by Michael Moss and others, about the debacle in Iraqi policing created by the Bush administration. The second report today practically beggars description.

It details the attempts by British and U.S. forces to train and oversee effective police forces, even while many units that were scraped together hastily became corrupt and then thuggish outfits. The report devotes much attention to Basra, which was supposed to be an isle of calm in Iraq. Now it is an utter mess.

Gradually, the corruption increased. Much of the city came to be controlled by sectarian groups, including the Iranian-influenced Badr Organization and the more radical Shiite militia controlled by Moktada al-Sadr, the Iraqi cleric who clashed with coalition forces in April 2004.

Evidence arose that the police began acting as the militia of these groups to carry out sectarian violence and enforce a fundamentalist creed....

Then, starting last spring, the accumulating evidence in a string of assassinations pointed to the senior police officers at Jamiat. The officers acted so brazenly that the American advisers dubbed them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, for the havoc they created, Mr. Villanova said.

The police chief in Basra, Gen. Hassan Sawadi, complained publicly last summer that he could not trust most of his men, and that corruption was rampant, but that he was powerless to fire even the worst offenders....

On Saturday, Majed al-Sari, an Iraqi Defense Ministry adviser, said in an interview that violence in Basra had gotten so bad that murders were now running about one every hour.


In the long term, creating police commando units to fight insurgents around Iraq turned out to be one of our most disastrous post-war policies. The commandos were recruited from former military personnel and heavily equipped. Falah al-Nakib, then the Iraqi interior minister, states "The recruiting was done by U.S. officials who didn't know who they were hiring."

But even as the special police units fought successfully, the American and British officials who helped create them remained worried....

"We saw them as a good thing, something with which to take on the insurgents," said Andrew Mackay, a British brigadier general who worked for General Petraeus. "But you could see that if we didn't get this right, it would quickly be something that the Minister of Interior, depending on who he was, could turn into his own little army."

Mr. Nakib said that before he left his post in April 2005, he met with Mr. Rumsfeld in Baghdad and told him the Shiite political parties who were coming into power that summer would hijack the commandos for use as their own militia.

"I warned him that there would be problems," said Mr. Nakib, now a member of Parliament.

Steve Casteel, an American security expert who served as Mr. Nakib's adviser, said Mr. Rumsfeld nodded and said, " 'We understand your concerns.' " Mr. Casteel said Mr. Nakib raised the same alarm with other officials, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq.


As David Manning (UK Foreign Policy Advisor) said to Tony Blair before the war about the Bush administration, "They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it." And what Mr. Nakib warned Rumsfeld about is precisely what happened last spring when the Interior Ministry was taken over by the Shiite military leader, Bayan Jabr.

James Steele, a retired United States Army colonel who also helped develop the special police as a member of General Petraeus's team, said he did not regret their creation, but rather saw their misuse by sectarian groups as one of the biggest threats to the American plans in Iraq.

"That is more dangerous in terms of our strategic success than the insurgency," he said. "If this thing deteriorates into an all-out civil war our position becomes untenable. Who the hell are you fighting?"...

The power of sectarian rifts in Iraq to influence police operations gained international prominence in November. American soldiers discovered a secret prison run by Interior Ministry officials in Baghdad where 173 malnourished prisoners, mostly Sunni Arabs, complained of being tortured. At the time, several Iraqi officials said the police working there were members of the Shiite Badr Organization.


If anything, the NYT article gives too little emphasis to these secret prisons, which are said to be quite numerous. By last July already it was being widely reported that the Interior Ministry had been turned into an instrument for sectarian violence.

Still, if you were wondering why the new government of Prime Minister al-Maliki has not yet been able to find an acceptable candidate for Interior Minister, consult today's report in the Times. To whom would you be willing to hand over the power to brutalize the nation?

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