Political Stability and Personal Security Elusive in Iraq
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Efforts to put together a functioning government in Iraq hit another snag today when a small but influential Shiite party pulled out of the negotiations. The party is one of seven comprising the powerful Shiite block in parliament.
MORNING EDITION'S Steve Inskeep has been in Baghdad for the past two weeks reporting on the efforts by U.S. and Iraqi authorities to create a new national police force. He is on his way back home and called us from Amman. I asked Steve how the U.S. could hope to build an effective police force amid the chaos and violence.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Well, it's brutally difficult, John, and you just look at what's happened over the last couple of years. Repeatedly, Iraqi police forces in various cities at key times have collapsed, run away, and the U.S. military has had to come in and save them. And you also have had thousands of police officers killed, 3,500 of them killed in the last year and a half. And these are people in many cases that the United States spent a lot of time and effort attempting to train.
However, General Peter Carelli, who is the U.S. land commander in Iraq, and who is focusing more and more, as Americans are, on police, insists in the last six to eight weeks of extreme violence, he thinks that some progress has been made, that in the crucible of this fight, that some forces have begun to improve. He points to Samara, where there was that terrible shrine bombing a few months ago, and the police force all but vanished, almost nobody was showing up to work. He says they've rebuilt that police force and it's now on the streets of Samara.
YDSTIE: I would presume, though, that people's first concern is their own survival in a situation like that.
INSKEEP: Oh, absolutely, and in a sampling of police stations and police officers that we've been able to talk to in the last couple of weeks, that is a dominant theme, not openly spoken but very plain. You have people who choose not to go to the scene of a crime, or not to investigate a crime, because they feel that it could cost their own lives.
YDSTIE: Amid all that chaos and violence, how do U.S. forces know who to trust as they work to build these police and security forces?
INSKEEP: You don't. This week we went out on patrol, a joint patrol, with U.S. and Iraqi forces. And after that patrol we were curious about the fact that the Iraqis really didn't seem to have a very large role. And it turns out that they really didn't have an opportunity to. The Americans that go on these patrols every day with the Iraqis, they really are making an effort, but they never tell the Iraqis where they're going until immediately before.
The Iraqis have no role in the planning of them, and we were told by a U.S. military official that that is because of op-sec, as they call it, operational security. They are not sure who on that police force might tell if they spread the word about where a patrol was going to go. They're not sure that they can trust everybody on a police force, even though they do feel they can trust some of them.
YDSTIE: I guess that begs the question of how do you train these forces if they can't be involved?
INSKEEP: It's one of the challenges that U.S. military trainers are facing. I will say this. Just in the last few weeks, U.S. military teams that have been working directly with specific Iraqi national police units have actually moved into their bases. They are embedded the way that reporters are sometimes embedded with troops. They're living right there. They're with them day and night and one would hope that in that situation that they can build up a little bit greater trust.
YDSTIE: Steve, you were last in Iraq in 2004. Have things improved or gotten worse since you were last there?
INSKEEP: It's a simple question. I can't give you a simple answer. I can say that in the months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were, in some parts of the country, not euphoria, that's really not quite the word for it, but relief and a feeling that things were moving forward.
There were thousands and thousands of people in this country who'd had relatives killed, arrested and disappeared, and there was an opportunity for an accounting for them, and that's significant. In many other ways people's lives could clearly be said to be worse. There's still a lack of electricity in the streets. And in certain areas there is a tremendous insecurity.
People in Durra(ph) on the south side of Baghdad, which is where we were earlier this week, are desperate for some kind of security. Somebody's dragging in bodies from out of town and dumping them in the streets, and if they're not doing that, they're actually shooting them right in their streets. And it's difficult even to know who it is.
Now, that's not to say it's right or wrong to have overthrown Saddam Hussein. It is to say that this has opened up an enormous chain of additional problems which are far from being resolved.
YDSTIE: NPR's Steve Inskeep, who spent the last couple of weeks in Iraq. Thanks very much, Steve.
INSKEEP: You're welcome, John.
YDSTIE: You can hear Steve's reports from Iraq at npr.org.
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