Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Iraq’s Police May Not Be Ready For Security Duties, But Premier May Not Be Ready Either

At the end of 2011 Iraq’s police were supposed to take over full control of security in the country’s cities. The Iraqi military recently announced that this process would be indefinitely delayed. While the reports focused upon the capabilities of the police, they ignored the political element. The fact is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may not be ready for the police to move into the forefront because it would take power away from him and transfer it to local authorities.

On October 8, 2011, it was reported that Iraq’s military had decided that the police would not take over command of the country’s cities at the end of the year. Several reasons were given for this decision, including fears that the police were not ready for such a duty, that violence might increase after the planned U.S. military withdrawal in December, the lack of intelligence capabilities of the police, and their infiltration by militants. All of these are legitimate causes for delaying the handover of the security file from the army to police. There are currently 303,000 Iraqi police, and 34,000 Federal Police. The United States Department of Defense only considers the Federal Police operationally capable, meaning that they can independently do their duties. The regular police in contrast, are said to be at only a basic level. Both forces come under the Interior Ministry, which the U.S. thinks is not capable of internal security, logistics, funding, and command and control capabilities currently. The Iraqi army has many more abilities, and it usually works in tandem with the police in urban areas.

What was not reported on was the political element to this story. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is intimately involved with security. In this matter, the premier may not want the police to take over control of the cities, because it would lesson his authority. The police are locally recruited, and are supposed to answer to each governor. Maliki is trying to centralize all authority over security in his own hands, so this move with the urban areas would decentralize power away from him and to the governorates. The army on the other hand, is directly under the control of the central government, with the prime minister holding the title of commander and chief of the armed forces. Keeping the status quo then, would maintain Maliki’s power over not only the cities, but the security file as well. That probably played just as large a role in the decision as the performance of the police.

Back in 2006, the United States drew up a three-stage plan for the development of Iraq’s security forces. Stage two was for the police to be placed in charge of internal security by the end of 2011. Like so many things in Iraq, that deadline will come and go with no action. The police are undoubtedly the lesser to the Iraqi army when it comes to capabilities, and that was a major reason to delay turning over cities to the former. At the same time, the police will likely never get the internal security job as long as Maliki is in office. He will do nothing that lessons his power, and making this move would do that by transferring authority to the provinces and away from him. Together, these two elements explain why the army will remain in charge of Iraq’s defense.

For more on Iraq's defense policy see: 

Iraq Wants Its Own Defense Policy, Not The One Fashioned By Washington


Associated Press, “Iraq army delays pullout from cities over security,” 10/8/11

Gompert, David, Kelly, Terrence, Watkins, Jessica, “Security in Iraq; A Framework for Analyzing Emerging Threats as U.S. Forces Leave,” RAND, 2/17/10

Knights, Michael, “The Iraqi Security Forces: Local Context and U.S. Assistance,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2011

Mohammed, Muhanad, “Iraq postpones handover of city security to police,” Reuters, 10/8/11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraq Army To Delay Pullout From Cities,” 10/9/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, ”Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/11
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11

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