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Analysis: Iraq militias run police chiefs

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by staff writers
Washington (UPI) Dec 19, 2006
Some 20 percent to 25 percent of the leadership of Iraqi national police units may need to be replaced because of their militia ties and activities, a top U.S. official said Tuesday.

"We believe that ...about 20 to 25 percent of (the national police leaders) probably needed to be weeded out," said Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of the U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi forces.

"There's reams, really, of anecdotal evidence (of sectarian violence being carried out by Iraqi forces), and then there are some specific cases where we have actually either caught individuals in the act or groups in the act. And the number of those instances is rather low," said Dempsey, the commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military in Iraq announced that a battalion commander from the 1st Iraqi national police division was arrested and relieved of duty Dec. 18 for allowing Iraqi police officers to illegally arrest two brothers at a security checkpoint in Baghdad. The brothers were loaded into separate cars that departed in different directions, according to the U.S. military.

The incident was uncovered and investigated by the deputy commander of the national police headquarters. Dempsey said the Iraq Interior Minister's internal affairs directorate has brought thousands of such cases forward to the interior minister who has passed most of them of them on to the criminal court, and many have been adjudicated. Dempsey did not have exact numbers.

There are some 25,000 Iraqi National Police, an official counter-terrorist force. When it became clear this summer that some of the police were involved in sectarian violence in Baghdad which they had been brought in to fight, a decision was made to pull the brigades offline and put them through a four week re-training program during which officers were polygraphed and investigated for potential militia ties.

Two of the nine brigades have been through the retraining.

"We've actually seen some pretty significant change in those units that go through that process and a fairly whole-scale change of leaders in those units," Dempsey said.

"If the battalion and brigade commanders are active, engaged, and honest things go well. If not, things do not go well," he said.

"A 'bad' battalion will usually have a bad battalion commander and 70 or so policemen or soldiers who follow him," Dempsey told UPI. "The bad commander usually pulls these guys around him as his personal security detail and then he uses them for all the wrong reasons."

Dempsey said militia influence was exerted both passively and actively.

"By passive influence, I mean security forces that might turn a blind eye to a particular act or allow something to pass through a checkpoint that shouldn't pass through a checkpoint," he said. "The answer to get at that is actually training, discipline and leadership."

"The more insidious one, of course, is active militia or sectarian conduct. And that's essentially criminal, and that has to be weeded out, and those individuals have to be brought to trial or imprisoned in a way you would any other common criminal," Dempsey said.

"The long-term answer, of course, is these reform programs, which are a combination of reorganizations to, in most cases, flatten the organization and limit the number of directors in there that can influence things," Dempsey said.

He said it will take about another year of retraining and re-vetting before the security forces are free of militia influence.

"The way you get at militias is you isolate the extreme ends of it," Dempsey said.

Dempsey said there is a "big pile of people" in the middle of Iraq engaged in a political fight for the future of Iraq, but the military's focus is on attack the extremists on either side.

"On each side, on the Sunni side and on the Shia side make no mistake about it there's a core of extremists who have no desire for that political process in the middle to work. That's not a large number, but, you know, it doesn't take much to get three or four suicide bombers to drive into a marketplace and kill 150 people," he said.

The involvement of Iraqi national police -- and to a lesser extent, Iraqi army commanders -- in sectarian attacks on civilians has fomented mistrust of the armed forces. Dempsey said that may be more harmful to Iraq's stability than the violence.

"There is a level of mistrust in this country that has accrued over the last six months or so that just as insidious as the literal acts of violence. In fact, for the long-term welfare of Iraq, the culture of mistrust may be the more dangerous threat to us," Dempsey said.

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