Policy Failures of Reconstructing Police in Iraq
One of the key tasks of the rebuilding the state in Iraq after invasion was to provide the security on the ground and restore piece. After the dissolution of Saddam regime Iraq was practically in anarchy. As the army was dissolved and former policemen were also not performing their jobs any more and population was armed, crime on the streets started growing rapidly, as well as terrorist attacks were creating additional insecurities.
In these circumstances Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) started rebuilding security sector. The process was rather a series of mistakes and following corrections, then a streamlined policy. The key problems, which decreased the efficiency of police reform, are the following:
1) At the initial stages precious time was lost
In spring 2003 the need to restore order in Bagdad became evident. But it looked like that this finding was a surprise for CPA. RAND report cites news of that time: “On April 12, the Washington Post reported that US Marines were not endowed with ‘policing authority’ and could only detain individuals directly hostile to US forces. The following day, the New York times reported that policing the streets and restoring law and order had become the priority of the Marines in Bagdad” (N. Bensahel et al, 2008). But policing is different from military services and troops were not prepared to perform civilian functions. The absence of police led to the self organization of local population, for instance Shi’ite community organized civilian and military patrols, who created check points on the streets of Bagdad. Simultaneously US sent additional troops and extra civilian affairs units as well as launch of recruiting for local police. The structures functioned without coordination, which created more mess then order.
As US administration faced immediate international criticism, negative publications in domestic media and growing insecurity in Bagdad, the following decisions on restoring police services were hectic and not well thought through. CPA distributed stipends to former police officers to motivate them to return to the jobs. MOI tried to apply de-Ba’athification to policemen, but due to the time constraints the only source of information used for this was reports of former colleagues, which later proved to be not extremely reliable source of information. At the end, as RAND report states: “Many of those who returned to work in response to the call from coalition forces would prove problematic for reasons well beyond ties to the Ba’ath Party” (N. Bensahel et al, 2008)
2) Failure to create transparent and efficient Ministry of Interior
Unlike Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior was not dissolved after invasion. MOI was responsible for police, border police, facilities protection service, civil intervention protection service and the emergency response unit. De-Ba’athification was conducted in the Ministry, but the majority of officers preserved their places. Newly appointed US senior adviser to the MOI had almost no knowledge on Iraq, coming from previous service in Kuwait. Even more importantly, he had no experience with police restoration in post-conflict environments and no experience of work with international institutions supporting police training (N. Bensahel et al, 2008). MOI officers lacked capacity. Two major conflicting tasks were to establish peace and security on the streets of Bagdad and to define long term domestic security strategy. As the Ministry lacked qualified personnel, even those advisers, which had extensive experience with developing police service, were stuck with fire fighting and spent more time out policing on the streets then working on strategic tasks.
According to ICG, 2010 the key threat, which CPA saw when reforming the ministry of Interior was falling of Iraqi police under the command of one political party, or ethnic group. To exclude such possibility, multiple structures and command centers were created (ICG, 2010). This policy solution failed. After the first election in 2005 new appointed Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bolani, being Shia and connected to Shia militia groups, appointing regional representatives of MOI terminated all Kurds and replaced them with Shia (L. D. Allen, 2007). American advisers managed to reverse this particular policy, but the example shows that there were no institutional checks to balance ethnicity issues in the governmental institutions.
Another institutional problem faced by the police was the absence of updated legal framework. Iraqi civil and penal code was not applicable in new realities, moreover the very idea of the abiding the law had to be reintroduced to the society.
3) Poor training of policemen
All newly recruited policemen had to go through 3 weeks training program. First obvious negative outcome was that those who had extensive experience were humiliated by the fact that they were put in the same conditions with inexperienced newcomers. But it was not the only problem. Comprehensive training existed only on paper. As RAND report mentions: “From 90000 policemen by June 2004 only 21 000 was trained, but quality of even this training varied. Some officers received classroom and field training, some only part of that, training for some lasted only for three days” (N. Bensahel et al, 2008).
Besides these problems of implementation, the problems with overall strategy ad approach existed. Police training program was supervised both by the Department of Defense and Department of State. Unfortunately the two agencies had conflicting goals. Vision of the Department of Defense implied that the police can be involved in military efforts and thus has to be trained accordingly. Department of State gave priority to conventional civilian functions of the police. Practical behavior of policemen in each strategy differs greatly. For instance if military should keep distance from community and be trained for quick anti insurgency operation, policemen are imbedded into community and should communicate with locals to know about the pending issues, be trusted and be ready to help. L. D. Allen gives the following example: “The military conducts a foot patrol with the Iraqi police and assumes the military posture. They do not talk and they walk from the starting point to the finish point. The American civilian police advisers, when conducting a foot patrol with the Iraqi police, take the approach of community policing. The concept requires Iraqi police to make frequent stops and visit with the public” (L. D. Allen, 2007: 30) Besides different approaches two Departments launched two parallel hiring processes and it ended up with civilian policemen subordinated to military.
4) Lack of understanding of the challenges a policeman faces on the ground
In a rash of recruitment and training it seems that CPA forgot to think what does it take for Iraqi to be a policeman during occupation regime. Police officers were the primary targets of terrorist attacks. It is clear that choosing local policeman as the target made perfect sense for insurgents: locals were not as protected as internationals; punishing Iraqis who cooperate with Americans should have been a good lesson for local population. Americans clearly failed to respond to this. Volunteers wanting to apply for the job had to stand in lines on the street in front of office and often became targets of shelling, or bomb explosion. Iraqi policemen had to invent security measures themselves and what they came up with was working in 24 hours shifts (and then falling asleep at the work place and being killed), or shifting numerous taxis to complicate the task if somebody was tracing their way home. It is not clear whether US commanders realize the level of threat Iraqi policemen were facing. The ideas like creation of public award for the best service in times when Iraqi policeman often wore mask not to be recognized during the work hours, says that probably not.
5) Failure to address ethnic peculiarities
CPA was trying to address the issues of ethnicity during recruitment process asking candidates to specify ethnicity in the application form. But it was definitely not enough. Coalition forces were not ready to such issues as the fact that Sunni trainer cannot teach Shia class; particular units of police would refuse to patrol Shia triangle, etc. As Larry D. Allen recalls: “It was impossible to send a Sunni police officer into a Shia neighborhood and expect him to enforce the law…. One’s ethnic background heavily influences each individual Iraqi police officer. There is an unbalanced loyalty between the government and religion. The fact is the Islamic clergy have more influence over the individual then the government leaders. There are numerous documented incidents of the police assuming passive posture in the face of sectarian violence” (L. D. Allen, 2007: 21). CPA also failed to prevent creation of local ethnicity based militias, which were efficient, but uncontrolled forces. In particular, Kurdish parties (KDP, PUK) created their own militias and refused to dismantle them. There was the reason – local militias were able to provide safety and US did not really have something to offer as substitution. Shiites created their own militia – Mahdi’s Army, the major task of which is to protect religious leaders and objects of cult. Another prominent example is Sons of Iraq, which managed to change security situation in Anbar “with monthly attacks dropping from some 1,350 in October 2006 to just over 200 in August 2007” (M. Wilbanks, E. Karsh, 2010) In the effort to incorporate various militias into formal structure the Coalition forces came up with the idea to create elite Iraqi unit from Kurdish peshmerga and Badr Brigades and incorporate a part of Sons of Iraq into the body of MOI. Predictably this idea raised fierce opposition of other Iraqi organizations, in particular representatives of Sunni tribes.
Policy failures described above fall within 2 broad categories: lack of strategic planning and lack of study and assessment of the situation on the ground. Due to the ad hoc decision making actions of CPA and interim government were contradictory and undermined trust of locals; quality of services was lower then it was possible to provide, newly created institutions were distorted. Due to the lack of the knowledge of local cultural peculiarities and traditions many policies failed to work being incompatible with the environment.
Larry D. Allen Resurrecting the Iraqi Police. New York: iUniverse, 2007
Nora Bensahel et al, “After Saddam: Prewar Planning and the Occupation of Iraq”, RAND Corporation, 2008, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG642.pdf
Iraq: Building a new security structure, International Crisis Group Middle East Report N°20 Baghdad/Brussels, 2003, http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/Middle%20East%20North%20Africa/Iraq%20Syria%20Lebanon/Iraq/Iraq%20Building%20a%20New%20Security%20Structure.pdf
Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown and Withdrawal, International Crisis Group, Baghdad/Washington/Brussels, 2010, http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/Middle%20East%20North%20Africa/Iraq%20Syria%20Lebanon/Iraq/99%20Loose%20Ends%20-%20Iraqs%20Security%20Forces%20between%20US%20Drawdown%20and%20Withdrawal.pdf
Mark Wilbanks, Efraim Karsh “How the ‘Sons of Iraq’ Stabilized Iraq’, Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2010, pp. 57-70 - http://www.meforum.org/meq/pdfs/2788.pdf