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Iraq: Are Local Police Ready To Provide Security For The Handover? (Part 2)

Today's transfer of power will be a challenge to Iraq's fledgling police force. Officials say many in the police are badly trained, corrupt, and have links to criminals. Iraq's Interior Ministry plans to fire many of them now that the power transfer is complete. But even this move is unlikely to make the police efficient and capable of ensuring security without the help of the coalition forces.

Baghdad, 28 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The new Iraqi police force is too weak to fight crime and terrorism and to guard state borders -- its key duties now that the United States has transferred authority to Iraq's interim government.

That according to Adnan Hadi al-Asadi, deputy interior minister and a former member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

"We are confronted with gangs which have weapons -- light, medium, and all heavy weaponry except tanks. They have cannons, rockets; they are even hitting planes. Now they are fighting the coalition forces. And [the coalition] is a powerful force, and is backed by big countries. And [these gangs] are able to fight these forces effectively. At present, the Interior Ministry cannot fight effectively these individuals," al-Asadi said.
"They were creating the police force as if they were in the United States, in a democratic, stable country. There was no proper checking of volunteers. Now we have the police infiltrated by gangsters, criminals, and resistance."

Much of the recent violence in the country have been directed against Iraq's police and defense forces, most recently on 27 June, when gunmen killed six members of Iraq's National Guard in an attack near Baquba, north of Baghdad.

These kinds of attacks are likely to extend past checkpoints to the country's border points. Al-Asadi says the Iraqi police have neither the manpower nor the equipment to protect Iraq from cross-border terrorism.

"The borders need 70,000 policemen to guard them effectively and what we have is under 25,000. Before, [under Saddam Hussein], they had the whole army controlling and surrounding Iraq, and now we have only small numbers," al-Asadi said.

Al-Asadi says one of the Interior Ministry's first priorities is to push forward with reforms, cleaning its ranks of some 90,000 policemen to remove unqualified or problematic personnel.

"At a specified time, we will be cutting large numbers of policemen -- nearly 30,000. The coalition forces -- especially the United States -- have contributed $30 million in compensation," al-Asadi said.

Al-Asadi says many of those removed will be officers who were recruited under the supervision of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. The deputy interior minister says the CPA had very little knowledge about Iraq and chose many inappropriate people to serve in high-ranking positions in the police force.

"They were creating the police force as if they were in the United States, in a democratic, stable country," he says. "There was no proper checking of volunteers. Now we have the police infiltrated by gangsters, criminals, and resistance."

Al-Asadi says some policemen participate in robberies. Others provide information to insurgents, or even participate in violent attacks themselves.

People in Baghdad agree that it is very easy to bribe a policeman. In some markets in the city, police uniforms, badges, and other equipment are on sale. Iraqi journalists say that it is even possible to buy a police car.

Al-Asadi says the other reason for a shakeup is that many policemen were hired by local councils or elders without any consultations with the ministry and look at them more as a local armed force than representatives of the state.

He says that's why the ministry does not have control over the police force in the flashpoint town of Al-Fallujah. The force there was recruited entirely from locals.

So what will Iraq's remaining policemen expect in the days following the transfer of power? Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi recently suggested a curfew might be introduced in some parts of the country. Many Baghdadis seem to back such a plan, saying it will be useful in curbing crime.

Al-Asadi says the ministry has not yet received orders to introduce a curfew. If and when it does, he adds, the Iraqi forces will not be strong enough to enforce it without the help of coalition troops.

"Doctor Allawi is referring to some kind of a curfew. It is not a curfew in the whole country but a local curfew. Until now there is no clear picture when, where, and how it will be done, but the decision is in the hands of prime minister. The police can introduce a curfew only with the help of coalition forces," al-Asadi says.

Al-Asadi hopes the coalition will honor its pledge to provide post-transfer Iraqi police with modern weapons and the technology they need in order to do their jobs efficiently.

But until the Iraqi police force gains strength, he says, "U.S. tanks need to back us. [At] present, U.S. tanks are the only symbol of power behind us."

(Click here for complete coverage and analysis of events in Iraq at RFE/RL's dedicated "The New Iraq" webpage.)

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