Protecting Neither Facilities nor People

BAGHDAD — The Facilities Protection Service (FPS) created after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has become the principal set of death squads in Iraq, senior leaders say.

“The first accomplishment of Paul Bremer (former U.S. administrator in Iraq) in Iraq was dissolving the Iraqi army and all security establishments,” a consultant with an Iraqi ministry told IPS on condition of anonymity. “The man was granted the highest decoration by his President for a job well done.”

The U.S. occupation authorities and the Iraqi leaders working with them set up new army and police forces under supervision of the Multi National Forces (MNF). It was decided that each ministry could establish its own protection force away from the control of the ministries of interior and defence.

Under Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order Number 27, the FPS was established on April 10, 2003, the day after the fall of Baghdad.

This document states: “The FPS may also consist of employees of private security firms who are engaged to perform services for the ministries or governorates through contracts, provided such private security firms and employees are licensed and authorised by the Ministry of Interior.”

Global Security.Org, a U.S. based security research group, says: “The Facilities Protection Service works for all ministries and governmental agencies, but its standards are set and enforced by the Ministry of the Interior. It can also be privately hired. The FPS is tasked with the fixed site protection of ministerial, governmental, or private buildings, facilities and personnel.”

The security website adds: “The majority of the FPS staff consists of former service members and former security guards. The FPS will now secure public facilities such as hospitals, banks and power stations within their district. Once trained, the guards work with U.S. military forces protecting critical sites like schools, hospitals and power plants.”

General Harith al-Fahad of the former Iraqi army says the FPS turned out to be no such thing. “All the forces formed were actually militias, not organised forces, because they were formed according to rations given to each party in power,” he told IPS at a café in Baghdad, with explosions echoing in the background.

“Those politicians brought their followers into the so-called security forces. Others took bribes of 500 to 700 dollars from each applicant to be accepted regardless of standard regulations.”

When sectarian violence spread across Iraq after the Shia shrine in Samarra was destroyed in February this year, “the FPS appeared to be the main force that conducted assassinations in Baghdad, and there is evidence that they did it for money.”

This seems to continue. U.S. officers training Iraqi police told reporters last week that infiltration of police units by militia members could delay the handover of control of the Iraqi security forces for years.

“How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don’t even trust them not to kill our own men?” Capt. Alexander Shaw said. Shaw is head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure we’re ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence,” he said.

Most of the infiltration is coming from the two large Shia militias, the Badr Organisation that is the armed wing of the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Mehdi Army, the militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Shaw said about 70 percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated, and police officers are too afraid to patrol many areas of the capital.

“None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better,” Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for western Baghdad told reporters recently. “They’re working for the militias or to put money in their pocket.”

Dr. Nameer Hadi recently left his post at a major Baghdad hospital because he felt threatened by the FPS.

“I saw them kill in cold blood a lady patient when they learned that she was the wife of a Sunni tribe leader,” he told IPS. “I am a Shia believer, but this kind of crime is unbearable.”

It is common knowledge in Baghdad that the FPS consists mainly of criminals who looted banks and government offices at the beginning of the U.S. invasion in April 2003. Many also believe that once the looters spent the money they stole, they needed a new source of income, and they were hired by local and regional powers for organised crime campaigns.

Iraq’s interior minister Jawad al-Bolani rejected allegations last month that Iraq’s police and military have played a major role in the death squads. He said it was the FPS, whose numbers he estimated to be 150,000, that was to blame for the astronomical level of violence.

“Whenever we capture someone, we rarely find anyone is an employee of the government ministries,” Bolani said. “They’ve turned out to be mostly from the FPS.”

In an interview on al-Arabiya satellite channel Oct. 21, official spokesman of the Iraqi government Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh accepted that security forces need to be “purified.” He blamed mistakes made during the “Bremer Period” for the current level of killings.

With attacks on government targets mounting, it is also not certain how far the FPS has been effective in protecting facilities.