Iraqi Security Forces Work In Often Uneasy Alliance

Final in a three-part series

Map: Iraq's Provinces i
Map: Iraq's Provinces

As U.S. troops draw down in Iraq, the security forces that the U.S. trained and supported will have to assume control.

Right now, the Iraqi army has a major role in securing many Iraqi cities. Eventually, the Iraqi police will take over that role.

The deputy commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, says the police need more training.

"I think the police force has improved and is improving, but I think we have a ways to go," he says.

In the meantime, tensions are simmering between different Iraqi security forces. Take, for instance, the predominantly Sunni city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.

There is no doubt that Samarra — once a haven of the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq — is safer now.

Every day, hundreds of Shiite pilgrims now make their way to the Al Askari Mosque. The golden dome of the Shiite shrine is being rebuilt after it was blown up by Sunni insurgents in 2006 — an event that set off years of bitter sectarian bloodletting.

There is security all around this city. Shiite-dominated national police control the area around the mosque. The Sunni local police and the Sons of Iraq — former insurgents who became U.S.-backed paramilitaries — also have their checkpoints. The Iraqi army encircles Samarra. It is an often uneasy alliance.

Mistrust At The Root Of Unease

Inside Samarra's local police station, officer Adnan Shakir, who works in the investigation unit, says things are better, but "it's a fragile safety, it's a cautious quiet."

The problem, he says, is mistrust between the different branches of the security forces here, especially between local Sunni policemen like himself and the mostly Shiite national police.

"The national police, they don't know how to deal with the people here. They are outsiders. There are always problems; when there is any problem, they use their weapons," he says.

Shakir says many of the complaints they investigate come from local residents regarding abuses by national police. Some are serious. Several women have come forward saying they were raped or assaulted by members of the national police.

Capt. Waleed Abdul Rahman is the head of the major crimes division at the local police station.

"One girl claimed that the police commandos violated her. In another case, a girl was kidnapped, and her family claimed that she had been forcibly abducted by a national policeman as well and taken to Baghdad," he says.

Abdul Rahman says the first case was never investigated. The second girl was slain by her family in a so-called honor killing when she returned home.

The captain says they generally don't take the complaints of assault and rape seriously.

But without an investigation, it's hard to determine the truth of the allegations or how widespread the problem may be.

Reports Of Assaults Anger Locals

Meanwhile, rumors of the assaults have spread to members of the paramilitary forces.

At a checkpoint, two Sons of Iraq members — who are Sunnis from Samarra — say they have heard about the incidents.

Asad Younis says they consider the Shiite-dominated national police a threat.

"They harass girls without the knowledge of the local police. They are doing these terrible acts, and we want something to be done about it," he says.

His partner Mohammed Aziz Khalaf interrupts him.

"The issue with the girls of Samarra has become intolerable," he says.

Back at the local police station, Capt. Abdul Rahman has his own concerns about the impartiality of a local judge. The judge has recently put out several warrants for members of the police in connection with the death of a prisoner while in detention. The captain says the autopsy showed that he died of natural causes.

He alleges that the judge is in the pocket of al-Qaida and is undermining law and order here.

"We security forces won't be able to do our work without fear if, for the simplest reason, the judge investigates us. Al-Qaida will come back here stronger than before, and conditions will be worse than before if we are targeted by the people who are supposed to be our allies," he says.

He has asked the Americans to intervene.

Worries Over U.S. Withdrawal

Another police officer who works here, Saif Saad, says he is worried about what will happen when the Americans pull out. He says the security forces are divided and mistrustful of each other.

"When the Americans pull out, there will for sure be conflicts. The national police follow its leaders, as do the local police, as do the Sons of Iraq. Everyone is looking out for their own interests, that is the truth," he says.

For now, Saad says the Americans are able to limit the tensions. But he says he worries that things could go bad here very quickly once they are gone.

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