Thursday, April 06, 2006

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO, Iraq's Interior Ministry announced that it plans to hire its own private police force instead of using the police force trained by the U.S.

Not a good sign, given that the two prisons raided by U.S. troops in November and December, where more than 120 Iraqi detainees had been severely tortured, were run by the Interior Ministry.

The Bush administration made the obligatory clucking noises:

"You can't have in a democracy various groups with arms -- you have to have the state with a monopoly on power," Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said yesterday, at the end of her two-day visit to Baghdad.

"We have sent very, very strong messages repeatedly, and not just on this visit, that one of the first things ... is that there is going to be a reining in of the militias ... It's got to be one of the highest priorities."


The weirdness continues. Riverbend tells us that the Defense Ministry is warning Iraqis not to cooperate with the police or the military forces unless they are accompanied by Coalition troops.

I was trying to decide between a report on bird flu on one channel, a montage of bits and pieces from various latmiyas on another channel and an Egyptian soap opera on a third channel. I paused on the Sharqiya channel which many Iraqis consider to be a reasonably toned channel (and which during the elections showed its support for Allawi in particular). I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page. The usual -- mortar fire on an area in Baghdad, an American soldier killed here, another one wounded there ... 12 Iraqi corpses found in an area in Baghdad, etc. Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly.

E. was sitting at the other end of the living room, taking apart a radio he later wouldn't be able to put back together. I called him over with the words, "Come here and read this -- I'm sure I misunderstood. ..." He stood in front of the television and watched the words about corpses and Americans and puppets scroll by and when the news item I was watching for appeared, I jumped up and pointed. E. and I read it in silence and E. looked as confused as I was feeling.

The line said [translated from Arabic]:

"The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

That's how messed up the country is at this point.

Riverbend and her family try to parse the meaning of this new warning:

"So what does it mean?" My cousin's wife asked as we sat gathered at lunch.

"It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don't have to let them in." I answered.

"They're not exactly asking your permission," E. pointed out. "They break the door down and take people away -- or have you forgotten?"

"Well according to the Ministry of Defense, we can shoot at them, right? It's trespassing -- they can be considered burglars or abductors ..." I replied.

The cousin shook his head, "If your family is inside the house -- you're not going to shoot at them. They come in groups, remember? They come armed and in large groups -- shooting at them or resisting them would endanger people inside of the house."

"Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON'T have Americans with them?" E. asked.

We sat drinking tea, mulling over the possibilities. It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning -- the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.

But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can't even trust its own personnel, unless they are "accompanied by American coalition forces."

It really is difficult to understand what is happening lately. We hear about talks between Americans and Iran over security in Iraq, and then American ambassador in Iraq accuses Iran of funding militias inside of the country. Today there are claims that Americans killed between 20 to 30 men from Sadr's militia in an attack on a husseiniya yesterday. The Americans are claiming that responsibility for the attack should be placed on Iraqi security forces (the same security forces they are constantly commending).

All of this directly contradicts claims by Bush and other American politicians that Iraqi troops and security forces are in control of the situation. Or maybe they are in control -- just not in a good way.

They've been finding corpses all over Baghdad for weeks now- and it's always the same: holes drilled in the head, multiple shots or strangulation, like the victims were hung. -- police or special army brigades. ... Some of them were rounded up from mosques.

Given these conditions, it's not hard to see how Iraqis could detest the Americans, yet still prefer to be searched or arrested by U.S. troops. But the irony is: We're the ones who are training these gangsters and proclaiming how much more professional they are getting every day.

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