Return of Secret Police in Iraq?
A raid last night on a Shiite militia-run detention center highlights what appears to be a major problem in Iraq: abusive practices by local warlords acting with quasi-governmental sanction.
About 100 U.S. and Iraqi troops raided an Interior Ministry administrative and detention facility Sunday night, at least in part to check on the welfare of prisoners held inside. “We’re assisting any possible injured inside, checking their medical condition,” said Capt. John Aguello with the U.S. Army’s 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. “We’re verifying their paperwork.” An Iraqi police source said the soldiers entered the low-slung bunker and ordered police officers stationed there to disperse.
The ministry compound was a center for police officers affiliated with the Badr Brigade, a Shiite Muslim militia, according to an Iraqi politician who lives nearby and to the police source, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. Falah Nakib, the politician, said police guards at the site told U.S. soldiers that there were only 40 prisoners there but that military personnel told him they found approximately four times that number. Nakib, a member of parliament and former interior minister who maintains contacts with the police forces, said he was aware of cases in which Iraqi police had abused detainees.
In an interview Saturday, U.S. military spokesman Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that American and Iraqi officials were investigating all charges of police abuse. U.S. officials have increasingly expressed concerns in recent weeks about Shiite militia presence in the Iraqi police force and persistent allegations of abuses and suspicious deaths. U.S. officials have also alleged that Sunni Muslim insurgent elements are working within the police force, though in smaller numbers.
Scores of bodies have been discovered in Baghdad and elsewhere around Iraq, handcuffed, blindfolded and shot through the head. Relatives of the dead often say that the last time they saw their loved ones, they were being led away by Iraqi police officers.
While I don’t expect Iraq to turn into Denmark overnight, this is quite disturbing. Allowing local militias, led by corrupt and barbaric men, to run the security apparatus at the local level is akin to the situation in Somalia in the 1990s. And the fear of the police coming in at night and disappearing people harkens back to Saddam’s evil regime.
One hopes last night’s raid is a beginning of a sustained effort to turn this around, rather than a one-time event.