Sunday, March 1, 2009

Maliki’s Private Security Forces?

On February 17 members of the Baghdad Brigade arrested the secretary of parliamentarian Mohammad al-Daini. Nine days before members of the same unit detained Daini’s chief bodyguard. That began the latest drama in Iraq’s parliament as Daini was accused of involvement in a series of terrorist and criminal acts. The events also highlighted one of two security units that have come to be increasingly scrutinized by Iraqi lawmakers.

The Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Unit have been accused of being Prime Minister’s private security forces. The Baghdad Brigade has been in charge of the Green Zone since it was handed over by the U.S. on New Year’s day 2009. It is led by General Emaad Yahseen Al Zuhary, and is officially part of the Army. Its’ operations against Daini’s staff shows that it apparently has police powers in other parts of the capital. The Counterterrorism force is an elite unit of over 4,000 that focuses upon militias, the insurgency, kidnappings, and gangs. The unit was brought together in April 2007 under the Counterterrorism Bureau created by the Prime Minister. The Unit is actually independent from both the Defense and Interior ministries. Nouri al-Maliki has just put forward a bill in parliament that would institutionalize their independence by creating their own budget. Both the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Unit also answer directly to the Prime Minister. This is what has led some Iraqi politicians to question these two forces, and Maliki’s intentions. Some of their uses have also added to the controversy.

The Counterterrorism Unit was the first one to gain notoriety when it raided the Diyala provincial council headquarters in August 2008. The unit arrested the provincial security chief and the president of Diyala University, but along the way killed the governor’s secretary and one of his bodyguards, beat the deputy governor, and got into a firefight with local police killing four officers. Baghdad claimed the two arrested officials were on a wanted list, but then later claimed that it was a rogue operation. Few believed that explanation since the unit is under the direct control of Maliki. Some thought it was the Prime Minister asserting his control over the provincial council. Several of the Sunni members of the council from the Iraqi Islamic Party, including the arrested provincial security chief, were trying to reach out and co-opt the province’s Sons of Iraq (SOI) in preparation for the provincial elections. At the same time Maliki was intent on breaking the SOI by creating a rival Diyala tribal support council to lure away their members, while arresting others. The bungled raid was part of this struggle between Baghdad and the province.

In December 20008 the Counterterrorism Unit also arrested several Interior Ministry officials. The supposed reasons for their detentions ranged everywhere from plotting a coup, to being former Baathists, to planning arson in the Interior Ministry building, to making fake IDs to gain access to the ministry. The fact that the Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani had a different story for the arrests than Maliki would point to another use of the special force to send a political message. Al-Bolani is the leader of the Constitutional Party that ran in the provincial elections. He was said to have used the security forces and his position to expand the party. The arrests could have been a sign by the Prime Minister that Bolani needed to watch his steps before the January 2009 vote.

Maliki has increasingly used the security forces against his political rivals, and to impose his will and the authority of the central government over parts of the country. This began when he sent the security forces after the Mahdi Army in Basra in March 2008. Since then he has also employed them against the Sunni insurgents, the Sons of Iraq, the Kurds, the Sunnis of Diyala, and the Interior Ministry. If the charges against al-Daini prove to be true, it shows that the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Unit are not just used at Maliki’s whim. At the same time, Iraq has few to any real checks and balances on the power of the prime minister, and the rule of law is weak. That has caused growing concern amongst parliamentarians over Maliki’s moves to create these two forces that are independent from the rest of the security forces and ministries, and only answer to him.


Aswat al-Iraq, “PM forms ministerial committee to investigate Diala incidents,” 8/19/08
- “PM’s special force arrested my chief guard, secretary – MP,” 2/18/09

August, Oliver, “Iraqi officials arrested in anti-Saddam party swoop,” Times of London, 12/18/08

Elliott, DJ, “Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle update: February 2009,” Long War, 2/5/09

Kadhim, Hussein, “Iraqi government plays down arrests of 23 police officers,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/18/08

Michaels, Jim, “Chain of command concerns raised in Iraq,” USA Today, 2/23/09

Parker, Ned and Hameed, Saif, “Iraq releases detained security officers,” Los Angeles Times, 12/20/08

Parker, Sam, “Guest Post: Behind the Curtain in Diyala,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 8/20/08

Peyamner News Agency, “Articles – Baghdad residents welcome green zone handover,” 1/2/09

Raghavan, Sudarsan and Mizher, Qais, “Arrests in Iraq Seen as Politically Motivated,” Washington Post, 12/19/08

Robertson, Campbell and Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Charges Dismissed in Iraq Against Ministry Detainees,” New York Times, 12/23/08

Robertson, Campbell and Williams, Timothy, “Status of Detained Iraqis Is Murky Amid Talk of a Political Showdown,” New York Times, 12/21/08

Rubin, Alissa, “Ahead of Election, Iraq’s Leader Pushes for Gains,” New York Times, 1/26/09

Russo, Claire, “Countdown To Diyala’s Provincial Election: Maliki & The IIP,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/30/09
- “The Maliki Government Confronts Diyala,” Institute for the Study of War,” 9/23/08

Salaheddin, Sinan, “Police: Iraqi troops raid Diyala governor’s office,” Associated Press, 8/19/08

Spangler, Nicholas, “Diyala raid was rogue operation, Iraqi government says,” McClatchy Newspapers, 8/22/08

Susman, Tina and Salman, Raheem, “Manhunt targets Iraq lawmaker whose plane was turned back,” Los Angeles Times, 2/26/09

Tran, Mark, “Iraqi officials arrested over coup plot against prime minister,” Guardian, 12/18/08


Anonymous said...

Replacing One Strongman with Another?

I hope not, but it may be the only way a STRONG central government will work.

Joel Wing said...

Saying Maliki is becoming a strong man is what's in vogue with many these days, but I'm not sure about how to characterize him.

I read some article a while ago that said Maliki was an opportunist, and I think that might be the best way to describe him. There's no real checks and balances on the prime minister's power so he's trying to get away with as much as he can, while wrapping it in the Iraqi flag. That means all manner of things from centralizing control of the military in his office, to setting up these two units that only answer to him, to taking on his former allies the Supreme Council, the Accordance Front, and the Kurds.

Maliki, who was never really that well known before and was almost deposed at least 3 times in parliament, has actually proven to be an exceptional tactician able to use the carrot and stick in many different situations. He's also won, so the real question is what happens when someone stands up to him and doesn't give in.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much a matter of what's in vogue as it is the truth of the matter. I mean, Maliki has proven that, if nothing else, he knows how to capture power, how to hold on to power, and how to prevent others from taking that power away...actually, kind of reminds me of Canadian politics. :) In fact, remind me to never use Canada as an example of how federalism works. :(

In any case, I remain convinced that Iraq cannot be governed from the center unless there is a strongman at the helm. But, that wouldn't exactly give governance in the new Iraq a very good name, to say nothing of a very sad irony.

And, it does not bode very well for Iraqis if the Sunnis and Kurds do not feel that they are being equitably treated by the central government. That is why I continue to hope that a diplomatic process will begin soon that will allow for negotiations amongst the various groups in Iraq to finally start hammering out a power-sharing agreement that they can all live with.

Without a diplomatic offensive like this, involving the UN, and the regional and major powers in an effort to support and secure whatever political settlement the Iraqis are able to achieve, I don't see any reasonable prospects for a stable and united which case, US forces might as well have been withdrawn yesterday with containment the order of the day!

Joel Wing said...

The reason why I'm reluctant to all Maliki a strongman is that he really isn't an autocrat. At least not yet. He doesn't have control of parliament for example, even though its weak and divided. He also doesn't have control of the provincial councils, the ministries, etc. It's like there are many centers of power in Iraq, some strong, some weak, and he just happens to have the most freedom right now to do what he wants.

Anonymous said...

Exactly! Maliki doesn't control all of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country. Frankly, I don't see any leader in Iraq - including Muqtada al Sadr - being able to head up a strong central government that is capable of providing security and services to all Iraqis, at least at this point in Iraq's history.

And that's why I am still so convinced that Iraq will opt for federalism or it will fall back into sectarian violence and it will be Katie-bar-the-door time once US forces withdraw...and withdraw they must, even in the absence or failure of an effort to move toward political reconciliation.

Joel Wing said...

I would think that Iraq is just going to keep on going like its going for the foreseable future. For example, you said that Iraq needs a national compromise between the different groups for power sharing, not going to happen under Maliki. He repeatedly says that reconciliation is almost complete for example.

Anonymous said...

In case I haven't made it clear, I'm not a fan of Maliki, for reasons that you have enumerated very nicely.

I am interested in knowing why you think Iraq is going to "keep on going like it's going for the foreseeable future" and if you believe this to be the case whether or not Obama/Biden can successfully promote a sustainable political settlement while the withdrawal of US forces proceeds.

Joel Wing said...

I just think Iraqis are going to make the ultimate decisions. If Maliki didn't budge when Bush gave him full support during the Surge, I don't think the U.S. is going to get anything more from him as we're drawing down forces and our influence is waning.

I think what the U.S. is focusing upon is finishing reconstruction projects, building up the Iraqi security forces and institutions, and trying to get them to spend their budget. The rest will be up to Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Well, a political solution in Iraq that will lead the country to stability and unity and away from sectarian fighting is NOT going to materialize spontaneously as Iraqis miraculously come together at a negotiating table and hammer out their political future, with their neighbors lining up to support whatever agreement they achieve.

Of course, only the Iraqis can decide their political future but they are going to need help and lots of it - as any nation would, under similar conditions.

That is going to require a lot of US leadership which, by the way, has been non-existant for the last many years. It is going to require a contact group led by the UN and involving the regional and major powers in the mother of all diplomatic efforts to assist the Iraqis and get them to the negotiating table.

Fortunately, the Obama/BIDEN administration understand exactly what will be required to promote and facilitate a sustainable political settlement in Iraq. Call me a cockeyed optimist!

I guess the national elections at the end of this year may tell a lot of the tale as to what path Iraq will take. Hopefully, a good deal of diplomatic groundwork will have taken place by then.

Anonymous said...

Hey motown! You don't by any chance have a 'Musings On Afghanistan' page somewhere, do you!?

Because that's going to be the really difficult row to hoe and we still haven't heard word one from Obama/Biden on a mission statement and overarching regional strategy. I'm willing to give 'em a little more time, but not much!

Joel Wing said...

Nope, nothing of Afghanistan. I can barley balance my writings on Iraq with the demands of teaching and my family. The people at IraqSlogger are starting an all Afghan site however. I don't know if it's up yet but there's an ad for it at the top of

Anonymous said...

I was just teasing you about the Afghanistan page. :)

It's just that you have a great site here, with lots of good information. I'll check out the IraqSlogger site and see what they come up with for Afghanistan.

I hope you have lots of help here because I can imagine that it could be a 24/7 or more kind of effort and I want you to know that all of your work is very much appreciated.

I lost a great source of info on all of this and other foreign policy issues on the day that Senator Biden became Barack Obama's running mate. I've been missing Biden's regular contributions to foreign policy and national security strategy - you might say that I've been feeling a bit out of the loop!

So, thanks again for the information and the great discussion!

Anonymous said...

motown, you have to see this!!!

Well, that is, if you haven't already

I came across this over at which was referenced in a recent post by Chris LeJeune.

I've only glanced over it so far but hope to read it in great detail soon.

Let me know what you think!

Joel Wing said...

I have a copy of their report, but no time to read it right now. I'm in the middle of grading essays!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like fun.

What d'ya say we both check back here in a few days - or more - and compare notes!?

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