Iraqis to reorganize security in Baghdad

Posted in Iraq | 11-May-06 | Author: Dexter Filkins| Source: International Herald Tribune

Iraqi police officers at the scene of an attack Wednesday in Baghdad where gunmen killed two traffic officers.
Iraqi police officers at the scene of an attack Wednesday in Baghdad where gunmen killed two traffic officers.
Senior Iraqi leaders say they are preparing a major restructuring of the capital's security brigades that would put all police and paramilitary soldiers into one uniform and under a single commander, in hopes of curtailing the sectarian chaos that is ravaging the city.

The reorganization calls for a substantially reduced presence of U.S. soldiers on the capital's streets, although not reduced numbers around the country.

The plan, revealed Wednesday in conversations with senior Iraqi leaders, would substantially alter Baghdad's landscape, now permeated by tens of thousands of police, soldiers and paramilitary soldiers whose identities and allegiances are not always clear.

The centerpiece of the plan is to gather together the multitude of existing security forces under a single command, with one easily identifiable uniform. Iraqi officials say that would allow give them greater flexibility to combat the insurgency and identify rogue elements within their ranks.

Private militias and death squads have flourished in such an environment, with Iraqi officials openly acknowledging that they do not control all of the armed groups operating in Baghdad. Such militias, some of them operating under official cover, have been blamed for much of the mayhem and killings that have become routine in the capital.

The Iraqi leaders say they the unified command would give them greater flexibility in combating the insurgency, which has continued unabated here, and would make it easier for them to bring the private militias under control.

"No one knows who is who right now - we have tens of thousands of forces," the Iraqi vice president, Adil Abdul Mahdi, said in an interview. "We need a unified force to secure Baghdad."

One example offered by Mahdi: as many as 150,000 paramilitary soldiers are assigned to protect various parts of Iraq's infrastructure, like its oil pipelines and electrical plants. But the soldiers are under the command of the ministries to which they are assigned, each with its own political allegiance and agenda, rendering them difficult to track and control.

"This is the real militia in Iraq," Mahdi said of the force, known as the Facilities Protection Service.

It was not immediately clear whether the decision to give Baghdad precedence in security would entail dedicating additional forces to the city, or whether it would it would include Iraqi Army units, which are generally regarded as more disciplined and professional.

President Jalal Talabani of Iraq said Wednesday that "Baghdad can be secured in one month" under a plan to reorganize…
President Jalal Talabani of Iraq said Wednesday that "Baghdad can be secured in one month" under a plan to reorganize security forces.
Iraqi officials said the decision to place more emphasis on securing Baghdad reflected the political and psychological importance of the Iraqi capital: the city contains as much as a quarter of Iraq's population, and a majority of insurgent attacks, including big car and suicide bombings, are carried out here. With large populations of Sunnis and Shiites, the city has become the central arena for the low-grade civil war that is unfolding across the country.

The capital is home to hundreds of foreign and Iraqi journalists. Iraqi officials complain that journalists' preoccupation with events in Baghdad give exaggerated importance to chaos and violence.

"Baghdad can be secured in one month," President Jalal Talabani said, confirming the plan.

Despite the high hopes, the prospects for success were uncertain. The new prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, is trying to put together a cabinet, which must be confirmed by the Iraqi Parliament by May 22. So far, Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders have been unable to agree on people to lead the two ministries, interior or defense, which deal directly with security. Any reorganization of the Shiite-dominated security forces is likely to be met with great skepticism from the Sunni leaders, whose communities have been the most ravaged by violence.

The coalition of political parties that approved Maliki as prime minister contain a number of Sunni politicians, and their support is crucial to the success of his government.

It is unclear, too, just how much impact a reorganization would have, especially on the militias and death squads that have been menacing the city.

The largest militias - the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army - are controlled by Shiite political parties that are part of the governing coalition. They have so far resisted any number of plans, both Iraqi and American, to disarm. Both groups are believed to have carry to out executions of political opponents and suspected insurgents.