Change of Leadership Suggested for Iraqi Police

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The Iraq Study Group recommended changes to how Iraqi security forces are run. Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense, talks with Steve Inskeep about the challenge of forging an effective Iraqi police force.

STEVE INSKEEP: Now American advisors are also working with Iraq's national police force, and some of those units are blamed for sectarian killings. The much-publicized Iraq Study Group report recently called for the police to be placed under new management. The national police would move from the interior ministry, which is dominated by Shiite Muslims, to the defense ministry, which is led by a Sunni.

To understand what that would mean we called Bing West. He's a former assistant secretary of defense who now visits Iraq as a journalist.

Mr. BING WEST (Former Assistant Secretary of Defense; Journalist): The national police were organized like the National Guard or our state police, to be a little bit heavier than the average police in large units, in order to go into tough cities like Fallujah or Ramadi. But no one was overseeing them properly.

INSKEEP: They are, at least theoretically, underneath the Ministry of Interior, as I understand, right?

Mr. WEST: That's a theory. If you send somebody to Fallujah and you don't have a chain of command - and the ministry of interior does not have a chain of command - then they're really out there all on their own. And that's not wise for any organization, let alone for Iraq. So it makes a lot of sense to take these National Police that are organized as battalions, just like the army battalions, and put them in the ministry of defense. That's just a commonsensical thing to do.

INSKEEP: What makes the national police actors of concern inside Iraq?

Mr. WEST: Well, it isn't just the National Police. It's all the police are highly suspect for being corrupt, for having poor leadership, and for having loyalties that lie with gangs and with militia - not all of them but some of them - rather than with the national government. Therefore, all the police need to be under firm control, firm leadership.

INSKEEP: Let me point at another recommendation of yours, the very next one in this Iraq Study Group report. Recommendation 51, the entire Iraqi border police should be transferred to the ministry of defense. Concern there about the security of Iraq's borders. Did anybody that you spoke with in Iraq feel that the borders were secure?

Mr. WEST: No, but that is not going to happen with the border police, one way or the other. Now, I have no objection to putting them under the ministry of defense. I think, again, for reasons of control and for reasons of management, it makes sense. But the borders are so porous that the foreign fighters who want to come in, they can get in one way or the other. And they don't even have to go through backdoors, they can simply get on the highways and drive in. You can't stop every human being trying to go across a border.

INSKEEP: Which gets back to what many U.S. officials are saying, that this is a political question as much as a military one.

Mr. WEST: Positively, it's a political question. There has to be a reconciliation between the Shiites and the Sunnis. And the Shiite government, being the majority, they have to reach out to the Sunnis. And, I mean, we're doing all the jawboning we possibly can. The issue is: when is Maliki going to start doing the things that he knows, as the prime minister, that he has to do? Which is reaching out to the Sunnis on the one hand, and stop sheltering that renegade punk, Sadr and his Shiite militia.

INSKEEP: Why would the Shiite-dominated government agree to move the national police over to, basically, the army, which is led by a Sunni?

Mr. WEST: It is not at all clear that this government is going to agree to control changing from one ministry or another, or what the role of the Americans are in terms of control. I, personally, have been urging that there has to be a joint American-Iraqi board that appoints all the key police and Iraqi officers, and can remove people from malfeasance. And if we cannot get that agreement, I don't think that we should have our advisers there at all. Because leadership is key, and if we're cut out of that, I do not trust the Iraqi government on its own to do the right thing. And I fear that they would fall prey very easily to packing the officership with the wrong kinds of people.

So this whole issue of is the Iraqi government going to agree with things like shifting the National Police over, that's an open question.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. West, it's always good to talk with you.

Well, thanks very much, Steven.

INSKEEP: Bing West was an assistance secretary of defense during the Reagan administration.

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