Looking to Security from Paper Police

BAGHDAD — In a country with no security and no jobs, just about anyone can work as a policeman.

“To survive in Iraq under U.S. occupation, there are only two jobs; police and garbage collection,” Baghdad journalist Mohammad al-Dulaymi told IPS. “Unemployment is leading many Iraqis to join the security forces despite the risk involved.”

According to the Iraqi government, unemployment was between 60-70 percent over the year. But not even senior army and police leaders know how many have got jobs as security men.

“We do not really have reliable statistics for the number of security personnel in Iraq,” a general in the ministry of interior in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “There are at least one million policemen who receive salaries from the ministry of interior as official policemen with salaries of 300 dollars and up. But we believe that half of them exist on paper only.”

The general said there is massive corruption in the ministry, and that most of the senior staff colludes in faking lists of personnel who do not exist.

“Why does everybody blame the bad security on the police,” Col. Fadhi al-Rubai of the Russafa Police in Baghdad asked IPS. “The whole country is being robbed. A look at any ministry would reveal the catastrophe Iraq is going through. We, the police, are only one part of huge corruption.”

“There are 1.4 million policemen in Iraq,” Abbas al-Bayaty, member of the security committee in the Iraqi parliament, and senior member of the major Shia bloc the Iraqi Coalition, told IPS. “That brings the percentage of policemen to people to one policeman for 27 residents, while the usual standard should be one to 300. This militarisation of Iraq is a big mistake.”

Even if large numbers exist only on paper, they are at the least a massive drain on the budget.

Moreover, there are security forces other than the police, though the ministry of defence refused to give IPS any idea of the numbers of Iraqi army personnel.

“Only the minister is authorised to talk about it,” a general in the ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “And anyway, no one has a good estimate given the tremendous chaos in the ministry.”

On the ministry of national security too, information is scarce. “The ministry of national security is an arm of the Iranian intelligence,” Col. Jassim Alwan of the former Iraqi army told IPS in Baghdad. “It is completely run by Iranian intelligence and the al-Quds Regiment under a secret agreement between Iran and America since before the invasion and occupation.”

An Iraqi Intelligence Office was set up by L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority which controlled Iraq during the first year of occupation. This office was meant to be independent of government. The office led by Gen. Mohammad Abdullah al-Shahwany has maintained a low profile through the years of occupation.

Shahwany, a Sunni Muslim, came to Iraq with the U.S. army in April 2003. He was one of the strongest supporters of U.S. presence in Iraq, and his office was keen on bringing former intelligence officers back to the service. But again, there is no information available on the number of personnel and what they do.

There are still other security forces in Iraq. “There are special army units that work together with the U.S. army without any authority of the Iraqi government,” Yassen Fadhi of the ministry of defence told IPS. “These forces are used by the U.S. army to conduct sensitive missions like arresting militia leaders or raiding mosques.”

The recent Awakening Forces formed by the U.S. forces from Arab tribes is believed now to be at least 76,000 strong, with plans to add another 10,000.

These men are also referred to by the U.S. military as “concerned citizens”. Most of them are said to be former resistance fighters who used to attack occupation forces, but have now switched support to the U.S. Men said to be among these forces are paid 300 dollars a month.

Many local community representatives now want their own “Awakening” forces.

“We contributed a lot to the security of Iraq, and we achieved in six months what the huge armies of the Americans and Iraqis failed to achieve in four years,” Sheikh Hammed Hayis of the Anbar Awakening Force in Ramadi, 10 km west of Baghdad, told IPS. “We are the leaders of the Awakening all over Iraq, and the government must accept us as official forces.”

The Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been at odds with the U.S.-military over the formation of these local U.S.-backed Sunni militias. According to the U.S. military, 82 percent of the “concerned citizens” are Sunni.

Many fear further deterioration of security under current policies.

“Power in Iraq will soon be turned to tribal leaders,” Sheikh Ahmed Shakir of the Sunni religious group The Association of Muslim Scholars Association told IPS in Baghdad. “They (the U.S. military) are buying time with the tribes after they failed with the army and militias.”

(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)