Iraqis Gaining Confidence
Several positive signs as the newly sovereign Iraqi government gets into the swing of things.
Iraq’s interim prime minister said Tuesday that his government would assume legal custody of former president Saddam Hussein and 11 of his top aides on Wednesday, the first step in a protracted legal process to hold them accountable for rampant human rights abuses during the nearly 24 years Hussein was in power.
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Hussein and the others would be brought before a judge on Thursday to be charged, an event that could yield the first public glimpse of the former dictator since he was captured by U.S. troops on Dec. 13. After Hussein and his aides are charged, they will have the right to legal representation and the right to remain silent, effectively protecting them from further interrogation. The 12 men will remain in U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq because the interim government does not yet operate any high-security jails. But the transfer of legal custody, negotiated between Iraqi and U.S. officials over the past few weeks, will allow Iraqi investigators and prosecutors to question the men as needed and have them brought to court. “I know I speak for my fellow countrymen when I say I look forward to the day former regime leaders face justice,” Allawi said at a news conference.
The announcement of legal proceedings against Hussein and others, including former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan and former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, was the first official pronouncement by the interim government, which was handed political authority by the United States in a hastily arranged ceremony on Monday. “We would like to show the world that the Iraqi government, the new Iraq government, means business,” Allawi said.
With its 15-month occupation now history, the 138,000-strong US military force in Iraq is attempting to sharply lower its profile, scaling back offensive operations and narrowing target lists while encouraging Iraq’s fledgling forces to take the lead.
Top US commanders have acted immediately to minimize the visibility of their forces. In a very public statement that Iraqis are now in charge, they have ordered US Army convoys as well as low-flying helicopters to move at night whenever possible. And symbolically, in a break with the occupation, the military “coalition” became “multinational forces” upon the June 28 transfer of power.
The thrust of US military activity will now be threefold, commanders say: to target terrorist networks, protect and consolidate US forces, and conduct joint operations with Iraqis aimed at weaning them completely from US support. By pulling back, they hope both to diffuse Iraqi insurgents fighting the occupation and force Iraqis to take their destiny into their own hands – a strategy also likely to save American lives.
“They now have the lead,” says Col. Michael Rounds, commander of the largest US ground unit in northern Iraq, a Stryker brigade that is part of a 20,000-strong multinational task force. “In our last meeting [with provincial officials] we said ‘OK, it’s yours now.’ “
Miami Herald — At The U.S. Headquarters, Regime Change Is In The Details
Inside the fortress-like American compound in Baghdad known as the Green Zone, Iraqi independence mostly meant ordering new business cards and ID badges Tuesday. The formal end of the occupation Monday trickled into the minutiae of life in the Green Zone, but didn’t bring any sweeping change to the suburban feel of the place. Women in tight shorts jogged in the blazing sun Tuesday, and fried pork rinds were still for sale in Saddam Hussein’s former palace — without a hint that these vestiges of U.S. rule might offend the country’s Muslim leaders.
L. Paul Bremer, the former American civilian administrator for Iraq, no longer plodded through palace halls in business suits and desert boots. Dozens of other occupation officials likewise packed for home, their jobs either finished or handed over to Iraqi counterparts. With the political transformation complete, the new U.S. Embassy will focus on reconstruction, with thousands of Americans remaining in Iraq to oversee projects and advise the new government.
The hand-over didn’t work magic, many said, but they felt a difference.
‘The coolest thing is when Iraqis come and say, `Hey, Brendan, we need a letter from you for this.’ Now I say, ‘No, you don’t. You can do it yourself,’ ” said Brendan Lund, a Massachusetts native who’s working with the Finance Ministry in the Green Zone. For example, Lund used to have signatory power over massive cash transfers for Iraqi banks. With Iraqis now overseeing ministry salaries and reconstruction funds, Lund said, he can “only ask very politely for the Iraqis to give us their money.”
The alphabet soup of American acronyms also didn’t change. The CPA simply became IRMO, the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office. Throughout the Green Zone, American workers switched computer screen savers to the new name Tuesday and signed vouchers as ”IRMO” instead of ”CPA” when they filled up their gas tanks, passed through the lunch line or visited the clinic.
One hopes they had actually ordered new name badges and whatnot ahead of time.
LA Times — Nation’s Forces Eager To Go It Alone
Iraqi security forces have been prime targets in a wave of violence in the country, as insurgents have struck hard at police stations and recruiting centers. But as they take over increasing responsibility for maintaining security in a sovereign Iraq, police and soldiers here claim to be primed for the coming challenges. “We hope they confront us directly,” said civil corps Sgt. Waadi Mohammed, who condemned the “cowardly” tactics of the insurgents. The first two weeks after the hand-over of power “will be the most dangerous period,” he said. “After that, God knows.”
That mix of confidence and fatalism seemed to permeate the ranks of the security forces, even though, by most accounts, they are far from ready to take on their new responsibilities. U.S. officials have long hailed the capabilities of the retrained Iraqi security forces. But those claims were undercut during an onslaught of insurgent attacks in April, when many police and civil corps soldiers fled their posts, unwilling to fight fellow Iraqis. Others even joined the insurgent forces.
The events prompted a shake-up and reevaluation of the Iraqi security forces. Hundreds were sent home, and U.S. Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus Ã¢€” who was credited with building up effective security units during the 101st Airborne Division’s occupation of the northern city of Mosul during the war last year Ã¢€” was brought in to oversee the national training program for more than 24,000 Iraqi officers. They include police, border guards and members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which was created by the U.S.-led occupation force and renamed the Iraqi National Guard by the country’s new government. “It goes without saying that the coalition forces don’t want to stay a day longer than is necessary,” Petraeus said at a conference of security forces commanders last week. “But we must be honest. The truth is that for some time, the coalition forces must shoulder much of the security burden.”
At a joint U.S.-Iraqi base in the northeastern Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya, April’s violence prompted another shake-up. About a dozen of the 220 Iraqi soldiers stayed home for several days when attacks hit the neighborhood. Mohammed, the civil corps sergeant, described the unrest as a baptism by fire that enabled his unit to identify potential weak links. “It was like a test. I’m happy that it happened,” he said. “Anyone that we’re not sure of, we got rid of. People who get scared have no place here.”
The commanders now seem eager to step out on their own and prove themselves to their U.S. trainers. “We’ve received high-level experience from the Americans. Now we’re ready to work without them. We’re sure, and [the Americans] are pretty sure,” Capt. Ali Shimari said. “We’re the sons of this country. The sacrifices we’re prepared to make are greater than the sacrifices of any foreigner Ã¢€” whether it’s an American soldier or a Jordanian terrorist.”
The confidence runs even higher among the police, some of whom professed eagerness to accept full control of the country. “If the Americans leave completely Ã¢€¦ we’ll be fine,” said Lt. Ayman Abdel Kader Youssef. “We’re security men. We can handle it. Our confidence is high.”
Clearly, they need a lot of help on that front, as expected. They appear to be getting it:
Washington Times — Soldiers ‘Get The Bad Boys’ In Raids
Under the cover of darkness, soldiers from Alpha Company, 91st Engineer Battalion, creep up a narrow alley to their target, ready to scale the front wall of a small home and seize the men who tried to attack their platoon. First, they knock. When the gate swings open, they ask for the men in question and detain four of them. A field test reveals that the men have traces of explosives on their hands. “This is how it’s supposed to go,” says 1st Lt. Nicolas Bradley, 27, of Salt Lake City, who led the pre-dawn raid. “This is the best part of our job, going to get the bad boys.”
The Alpha Company of the 91st Engineers has raided neighborhoods in western Baghdad every night this week. It is searching for terror suspects and insurgents. Soldiers say every arrest they make will reduce the number of attacks against Iraqis and the multinational forces. But with Monday’s transfer of authority to an interim Iraqi government, the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division fear that their aggressive pursuit of insurgents will have to end. “We’ve been told that after the [transition], we’ll need a warrant or something just short of a warrant to go in,” says 1st Lt. Brian Stone, 24, of Pittsburgh. “We won’t be able to do it just off suspicion anymore.”
Raids have netted so many suspects that the detention facility in Baghdad is filled to overflowing.