POMED Notes: Policing Iraq
On Wednesday, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a panel discussing the history of the Iraqi police and the U.S. police assistance program in Iraq. The event publicly introduced a new USIP Special Report by Robert Perito on “The Iraq Federal Police: U.S. Police Building Under Fire.” The panel featured retired U.S. Army General Jim Dubik, former deputy inspector general of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), and Assistant Professor of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs Dr. Justin Long. The event was moderated by the Director of the Security Sector Governance Center at USIP Robert Perito.
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here for the PDF
Robert Perito introduced the discussion briefing the audience of the uniqueness of the Iraqi police program, on which the United States has spent a total of $8 billion dollars. The establishment of the Iraqi police was unprecedented. It was the first time the international community had attempted to build a police force in such a large country with a large population. It was the first time that the Department of Defense and the military took the lead in training police, and first time that the establishment of a police security network was attempted “while under fire.” Finally, it was the first time “that the U.S. decided to take on a challenge of this magnitude.”
Ginger Cruz addressed the audience warning against falling victim to hindsight bias. She stated that it’s very difficult not to do so, as the U.S. would have done things differently as it is much easier to understand the situation today than 2003. “There were so many things going on at the same time,” said Cruz discussing how the situation “fractured into a thousand pieces” upon the introduction of so many conflicting ideas and scenarios of how best to handle the situation. “One of the main challenges was understanding ‘what it is we’re doing’ to build the capacity of the Security forces in Iraq,” she said. She said that if it were known from the beginning that reforming the police necessitated 8 billion dollars to train 250 thousand police, there would have been a completely different outcome. Instead, what SIGIR presented to congress was “an unknown program, an unknown organization, an unknown budget” and a congress reluctant to spend as the country faced economic hardship. As a result, Congress budgeted a total of 24 million dollars to prop up the “shadow government” and the entire police force. Today the total amount is $6 billion,” said Cruz. According to Cruz, mishaps in reconstruction effort can be traced back to “fundamental” mistakes, such was defining the capacity the police’s role in shaping the country, funding, underestimating the amount of personnel. It was unforeseen that Saddam Hussein would “unleash his prisoners” and that a majority of his 60 thousand-man security force would “desert” after the invasion. “We understood the problem, but it was the implementation that was lacking,” said Cruz. The problems existed on the “nitty gritty” level. Training policemen the concept of “due process”, perform proper investigations, collect evidence, filing correct paper work were all things that the “military did not have time for.” The beginning of the U.S. intervention “can teach us a lot.” “It was not because of lack of planning,” said Cruz, “the system was not in place.”
Lieutenant General James Dubik began announcing a list of disclaimers. He stated that Iraq is not Afghanistan, that knowledge between separate conflicts is not 100percent transferable, and that Iraq “is not a model for all time.” He also affirmed that reconstruction was both an Iraqi and Coalition effort. Dubik divided his talk into three sections: the state of play upon his arrival, the broad breaststroke of changes made, and in retrospect after his departure. Upon his arrival, Dubik stated that violence was at its “apex.” U.S. forces were under indirect/direct fire and it “was not at all safe to do anything.” After arriving, a new Minister of the Interior Jawad Al-Boulani was chosen “because he had no real political base.” It was at this time of a surge in violence that a corresponding “intellectual surge” occurred causing a “shift in policy” and a “shift in strategy.” According to Dubik, changes and transitioning to Iraqi control, “shifting the mindset,” took several months. A transition was made from an offensive to a transition to security. New forces were generated and old forces re-trained, and the strategy according to Dubik, was “as the security improves the transition was going to take care of itself.” Dubik stated that strategy that the military employed was “stimulating ministerial capacity by increasing security.” They did so by taking concrete steps to generate police leaders faster, using “a problem as a stimulus to get a response.” Instead of focusing on the “quality” of the police, the army decided that a larger quantity was needed. After the Jones Commission, four priorities were assigned to the operational commander coordinated through counter-offensive: getting rid of the National Police (Boulani “did a clean sweep of the national police commanders”), keeping the local police afloat until the counter-offensive was able to fight off the insurgency stimulating a response from the ministry, and improving the ministries’ capability to force manage, procure resources, train, set up an ‘internal affairs’ apparatus, and budget.
Justin Long addressed five points that tie into broader themes of security and police intelligence. First, Long stated “policing is politics by other means.” In many instances, such as in the violent Anbar province, politics had to change before the police changed. Secondly, technocracy is “crucial important but really only have the problem,” meaning that not everything can be fixed by “better training.” Additionally, a topic not so often addressed is the impact of corruption. Corruption, inherently tied to politics, undermines the effort of security. Corruption, said Long, can be found at all levels of leadership. Fourthly, police are crippled without a competent judiciary. “You need to look at the police as a system,” said Long, and the judiciary in Iraq being weak “crippled” the police system. Finally, Long addressed the need to create a time horizon for development. Creating a time horizon serves as a “benchmark” while planning for development and prevents misinformation. Long concluded his address noting success of Iraqi elite police units. He said that regular police, “the thin blue line” are” easy to generate, but not easy to support” and thus elite police units served as both a critical part of the counterinsurgency and were successful “when politics allowed them to be.”
The Q&A section began with a question concerning allegations that some Iraqi policemen are involved with terrorist organizations. While Justin Long said he would be surprised if they were not involved. “The police will inevitably reflect the politics. “Until the politics of the country are fixed, the police will lean toward corruption,” said Long. Ginger Cruz addressed a question about how the Iraqi people can trust the police. She answered saying that “civil society is blossoming” and that people “remember how to make the country function” regardless of recent rumors of the centralization of power. The Iraqi people can “pressure politics” through elections. President Bush’s decision to turn power over to the department of defense “was the right thing to do at the time,” said James Dubik. The event concluded with the entire panel urging academics and policy makers to not “close the door” on Iraq but rather engage the topic to assure adequate reconstruction.