The Iraqi Police

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Police Academy [Chad Sandoe / Flickr]

A strong Iraqi police force is one of the stated “pillars” of the Bush Administration’s Iraq strategy. It’s essential to the country’s stability — and therefore to any plans for U.S. troop withdrawal (about which rumors are heating up again).

So how is it that three years after the fall of Baghdad the police force is exhausted and ineffective — and seems in fact to be at the very root of the country’s simmering civil war? What went wrong and when? What did we learn from Bosnia and Kosovo (and countless other post-conflict countries) about basic law and order that we could have applied here? Why didn’t we do it? And what happens now?

Michael Moss

Reporter, The New York Times

Author, “Misjudgments Marred U.S. Plans for Iraqi Police,” The New York Times

Author, “How Iraq Police Reform Became Casualty of War,” The New York Times

Richard Mayer

Former deputy director, ICITAP, Department of Justice

Worked for Lt. General Jay Garner preparing pre-war plan for development of Iraqi police

Recently retired senior police advisor, Department of State

Former chief of police, Brunswick, Maine

Gerald Burke

Former national security advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior

Retired Massachusetts State Police major

Andrew Mackay

Brigadier, British Army

Directed the civilian police training in Iraq for the Pentagon in 2004

Was involved in security sector reform in Kosovo

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  • If this show and the Hip-hop show are both to air on Thursday, does it mean we are going to hear how the Iraqi police are turning to Eve, MC Hammar or even the “Live from Iraq” soldiers to get the factions shaking their booties instead of waring?

    This is more than a gamble

    And I’ll give you the truth

    Plenty of lives lost

    Over a scandal

    Turning more than a cheek

    Warm hearts turn cold

    Higher people in command

    Planning wit no type of goals

    This is your own exposed

    Media cast and the scoop

    Covered over the answers

    Cause you cant handle the truth

  • Hip-hop skipped and jumped to June 1st, muscled out by the Iraqi police. Just as well, as Sir Conan Doyle wrote in Sign of the Four, “…there is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman.”

  • violence brings one thing

    more more of the same

    military madness

    the smell of flesh and burning pain

    m franti

    Cause I always got to worry ’bout the pay backs’

    some buck that I roughed up way back

    comin’ back after all these years

    rat-tat-tat-tat-tat that’s the way it is uhh


  • Though the two occupations are different in many ways, if Christopher Aldous (The Police in Occupation Japan) is correct, it would seem that the present administation’s attempts to reform the Iraqi police is again another failure to engineer “democracy” and to understand social and cultural complexity.

    Has any of your guests read this book?

  • Jim Parfitt

    The ISSUE that I never hear discussed, and that I feel is KEY to so many of our problems in Iraq is this: WHAT ARE OUR FUTURE PLANS FOR AMERICAN MILITARY BASES IN IRAQ?? For the Iraqis, since we have not discussed this clearly, it means one thing; that they are PERMANENT. And if they are permanent, what does that mean to the common man in Iraq? It means that we are foreign occupiers, and if they are patriotic about Iraq, they need to expel the American occupiers to get their country back and control their own destiny. The Bush crowd has greatly empowered the insurgency by not openly discussing this issue. All the insurgent recruiters have to do is point at the American military base to get others to join the cause. What does that make the American trained police? It makes them total sell-outs and the object of hatred by any Iraqi who wants a self-determined free country. The bush hidden agenda of establishing bases has made the insurgents RIGHT. We must stop and consider; How would we feel if right in the middle of our town, there was a big area barbed-wired off with military vehicles all over and guys heavily armed speaking a wierd foreign language and wearing strange uniforms? Would that be just fine and dandy with us red-blooded Americans? Or perhaps some of us would not want these uninvited foreigners and their base in the middle of our city, and would take up arms to force them out? Perhaps there would be insurgents abong us?

  • Jim Parfitt

    P.s. You can read my comment on the air. Jim Parfitt

  • Delysid

    Well put, Jim Parfitt! A disappointing panel is lined up for this show. I’m listening to the podcast a few days later, and am about half waythrough, but looking at the credentials of the guests yet to speak I don’t think we’re going to hear much thinking outside the box.

    There’s no “mystery”, as Chris puts it, about the dissolution of law and order in occupied Iraq. To avoid the politically unpalatable high US casualty count that a more ground-bsased attack would have incurred, the illegal American invasion relied heavily on aerial attacks on civil infrastructure, which were already badly deteriorated by a decade of cruel sanctions. The result was very high Iraqi civilian casualties and widespread collapse of what social order had survived the sanctions and Baathist repression.

    The Americans compounded this chaotic state of mass trauma by completely blowing off their obligations under international law to secure law and order and the safety of the occupied nation, setting the stage for the rise of criminal and/or sectarian forces to filll the power vacuum.

    As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the occupying US forces immediately began political machinations both covert and overt to maximize sectarian conflict and, in theory, weaken potential resistance by the tried and true imperialist method of divide and conquer. Along the same lines, as many communities across Iraq responded to the situations by quickly electing local governments and forming coalitions to meet local needs for security and repair of civil infrastructure, the American architects of the campaign intervened in those communities, again fearing the rise of local solidarity, and shut down those spontaneous eruptions of democracy.

    These high level strategic cruelties and self-defeating strategems were the project of the Bush administration and its handpicked cronies put in charge of the occupation. Meanwhile the military and civilian experts brought over under the guise of being there to rebuild a democratic Iraq quickly found they were only window dressing to put some semblance of a humanitarian face on the underlying ruthlessness of the true “plan” and its goals which were petrochemical and geopolitical in nature, with little regard for the people of Iraq. In this context the failure to take seriously the establishment of a viable police force was just one part of the overall criminal neglect of Iraqis’ most basic social needs.

    Bottom line — the problem today is the same as it has been since the first day of the invasion. The US-led occupying forces should never have been there in the first place, and every day they stay in the country is just more death and chaos for the people. The US must withdraw without delay, forget about the permanent bases, and pay reparations to Iraq so it can recover and rebuild itself. The US forces remaining there won’t do anything to ameliorate a civil war, they only make it worse and fuel the cycle of violence.

    There’s no mystery here, Chris. There’s just a continuing war crime that keeps doing more damage as long as it sustained. Listen to the people of the Iraq and go home now — in the long run, order and social recovery will proceed faster without the poisonous interference of US forces who the Bush-led neocon cabal are exploiting and sacrificing to perpetrate this crime against humanity.

  • Delysid

    Actually the panel’s not bad.

    They provide the interesting perspective of people tasked with rebuilding the country and fulfilling a humanitarian role, but betrayed by a White House directed grand strategy that worked exactly against the necessary first steps of stabilizing the social chaos, establishing basic health and safety facilities, providing food, water, utilities and sewage services.

    These are things hard to fix in the context of battle. The US focus on violent suppression of any opposition during the brief relative peace of the immediate post-invasion period caused them to miss the prime window of opportunity that interval offered, and instead fanned the flames of incipient insurgency.

    If they had paid less attention to repressing opposition, and focussed on securing the country from the word go and going all out on reconstruction and restoration of services, I think the insurgency would have withered on the vine.

    It’s the basic psychology of favouring the carrot over the stick, positive reinforcement, and *not* taking a punitive approach to everything.

    Also fascinating was hearing how these military/police men of obvious intelligence and integrity stay adeptly, autmatically in line with the official version of Iraq reality, never letting their critical analysis extend so far as to touch on the fundamental questions of the Iraqi occupation, such as its explicit contravention of international law, deceptive launch, and the utterly insane long-term neocon geopolitical strategy of which Iraq represents only the first gory step.

    Not that the panel was a jingoistic war rally either. Far from it — there is rather an absence in their discourse, a certain area not touched upon, in the gap between what could and should have been, and what was tragically transpiring in reality.

    Imagine, for instance, what it would have been like facing the task of assembling and training a city police force in the social wreckage of Baghdad while the Abu Ghraib revelations are tearing away any shred of local support for anything or anyone American.

    Unless of course these guys were among those responsible for setting up Abu Ghraib in the first place. I think not, that would have been a US military operation, not a direct concern of a police advisor. But they would have been running their fledgling local police operations during the height of Abu Ghraib madness, wouldn’t they?

    *THAT* would have been a good question to ask the panel:

    “How did the incarceration of tens of thousands of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib and other prisons, and subsequent revelations of torture, affect the panel members’ task and relationships with Iraqis?”

    Thanks for a thought-provoking show, Chris & co.

  • blacktorch

    I listened to the show with great interest; my credentials are that I have just spent the last two years working with 90 retired British Police men who have been training the Iraqi Police in Southern Iraq. The men work alongside the Iraqi police on a daily basis, and live with the battle groups.

    It has got to the stage now in Basrah that the local police will not enter into any dialogue with the military as they feel that they have been given nothing but broken promises and to be honest I can’t blame them

    The simple reason as to why we are failing with security sector reform in Iraq is quite simple the military have failed to create an environment for the reform of the justice sector to prosper.

    The strategic players have failed to understand that Basrah for example is not Boston or Brighton and come along with very fixed ideas on how a police force should be run to first world standards failing to take into account local customs and traditions.

    They arrive chanting mantras from their staff colleges, a comment was made last week at a meeting ‘it would be nice to have some Iraqi police here wouldn’t it’

    The Iraqi police are much maligned, corrupt, death squads etc and that is true, but the real truth of the matter is that we have allowed the rouge elements to prosper by indifference by politicians and the senior military commanders who get their medals and go home after six months.