Iraqi Police Struggle with Rule of Law
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Baghdad.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne here, in Los Angeles. This is the week that Iraq's prime minister is promising to name a government. That would be a relief to Americans and Iraqis desperate to tackle problems from the economy to security.
INSKEEP: The new government's job will include improving Iraq's police, whose progress we're tracking this week. Today, two key people tell their stories, starting with the Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr. He's had a dangerous job for the past year and, at one point, his own daughter was kidnapped. We passed seven checkpoints and submitted to seven searches on the way to his office.
Jabr was blamed for militia activity and other misconduct. But on the day we met, he said a former police general had been arrested.
Mr. BAYAN JABR (Interior Minister, Iraq): The general is General Hanin(ph). He was the leader of the (unintelligible) side of Baghdad. He have 18 policemen work with him. They kidnapping the people and get money from them. If not, they kill them.
INSKEEP: So this was a scheme not for politics, but for money?
Mr. JABR: It's for money only.
INSKEEP: May I ask how you learned of his activities?
Mr. JABR: We get intelligence about that. There are someone kidnapping by police cars, by police uniform. And we capture that. Even that--we hear that there are some military--by the military cars, military uniforms--they also killing or capturing people, we do the job. The MOI captured 70 from the Battalion 16, which is very dangerous battalion.
INSKEEP: When were they arrested, the 70?
Mr. JABR: They are--around one month ago.
INSKEEP: Do you believe that there are more people inside the police forces acting as death squads?
Mr. JABR: You know, I don't think so. There are, but not so many because we are --follow up them, we are watch them. For that, I think we will reach to the end of these bad groups in the next few months.
INSKEEP: Minister, do you remember an American, he was an advisor to your ministry, named Gerald Burke, Jerry Burke?
Mr. JABR: I don't remember.
INSKEEP: He was a police advisor. He--Mr. Burke says that he saw documentation showing that, on one occasion, there were 1,300 people hired into the police force in Najaf in a single day. He believed that was a sign that a militia had been…
Mr. JABR: In Najaf…
Mr. JABR: …that is totally wrong. Maybe one or two or 40, not 1,000.
INSKEEP: Have the Americans been helpful to you?
Mr. JABR: Yes, the Americans, they help us very well. And I think now the result is better and better than one year—one-and-a-half year before. Human rights is protected, rule of law is very good. Everything is going well, but not perfect.
INSKEEP: Rule of law. I can't help but notice--I was in a morgue last week--the huge number of people being killed every day in this city.
Mr. JABR: You know, this is--part of it is the terrorists; part of it is crime; part of it revenge; part of it is political; part of it is ethnic, et cetera.
INSKEEP: When I was in this morgue, nearly all of the people who had been killed had been shot in the head. And it seemed like a pattern. It seemed political, perhaps.
Mr. JABR: (Speaking foreign language)
INSKEEP: Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said again, in Arabic, that there's a wide range of killers in Iraq, right now.
One American advising Iraqi police is Colonel Donald Currier. He's with an American National Guard brigade of military police. In civilian life, Col. Currier has been a cop and an aide to the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He says the police units that he works with have a cleaner record than some others.
Colonel DONALD CURRIER (Advisor to Iraqi Police, Iraq): My unit deals with the local police. And so the units that--or the police units that we're affiliated with, to my knowledge, haven't been accused of anything like that, with the exception of one. And that is, a few months back, the highway patrol was accused of going out and I believe they were going to commit an execution. And these particular guys were part of a special component of the unit that we were working with that was not necessarily training with us.
INSKEEP: When your police training team that works with the highway patrol found out that these 18 highway patrolmen had been arrested and were being described as a death squad, were they surprised?
Col. CURRIER: No, and I know that's a little shocking. It was disturbing to us, because we knew that there was something up with these guys. They were pretty frank with us about not being hired through the normal hiring process. So we suspected that there was something amiss.
INSKEEP: Are there still people that you run into or hear about that you wonder, well, there's a unit that, again, we're not really sure what they're doing.
Col. CURRIER: Certainly. Certainly. And let me tell you why that bothers me--is one of our fundamental challenges in this country with the police is a lack of jurisdictional authority. We are trying to fix the police, but while we're trying to fix the local conventional police, we have, in the same area of operation, national police units, we have Iraqi Army units, we have MOI Intelligence units, all kinds of different national assets and provincial assets operating in the same area with virtually the same jurisdictional boundaries. And so, it's a little bit murky.
INSKEEP: Is the result of that too much action or total inaction?
Col. CURRIER: It's a combination. And what happens when everybody is in charge, you get nobody in charge.
If there's a major incident, then you have a lot of response very quickly; sometimes you have chaos. And I don't want to paint a falsely bleak picture, actually, you know, we're making lots of progress. But we're quickly reaching a plateau where they cannot increase in their professionalism, because we don't yet have a nation of laws.
You have--if we have a professional police, then where do the people go that they arrest? If you don't have a professional judicial system that is well synched to the law enforcement system, and if the law enforcement system isn't synched to the community-based electorate, you know, who runs the police in Iraq?
INSKEEP: Having been involved in politics in the States, is there any way that politics here is like politics there? I mean, is there any way that there's something universal about it?
Col. CURRIER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Politics is the same everywhere. It's about interests and it's about money.
INSKEEP: What are the different interests that are competing for different versions, in effect, of police forces in Iraq?
Col. CURRIER: It's an interesting question, and it's--I think that that's probably the biggest reason we lost momentum in our ability to train and professionalize the police in Iraq, is when you didn't have a sitting government, and you had a rise in sectarian violence, then you had everyone looking at protecting their own physical security interests.
So instead of sending young men to be policemen and supporting the local police, you start asking people to leave the police force and become part of your militia so that you have more influence by force.
Mao said that power grows from the barrel of a gun, and these guys know that.
INSKEEP: Col. Donald Currier advises Iraqi police. Just a glance at recent headlines emphasizes the pressure those police are under. Over the past 18 months, 3,500 Iraqi cops have been killed in the line of duty.
You can find an online journal of our travels in Iraq at npr.org.
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