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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The 40 year occupation

(AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)
Who do they work for, the Mahdi Army
or the Badr Organization

In Baghdad, a Force Under the Militias' Sway
Infiltration of Iraqi Police Could Delay Handover of Control for Years, U.S. Trainers Suggest

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2006; A01

BAGHDAD -- The signs of the militias are everywhere at the Sholeh police station.

Posters celebrating Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army militia, dot the building's walls. The police chief sometimes remarks that Shiite militias should wipe out all Sunnis. Visitors to this violent neighborhood in the Iraqi capital whisper that nearly all the police officers have split loyalties.

And then one rainy night this month, the Sholeh police set up an ambush and killed Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., a 20-year-old budding journalist, his unit said. At the time, Stanton and other members of the unit had been trailing a group of Sholeh police escorting known Mahdi Army members.

"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence."

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."

U.S. military reports on the Iraqi police often read like a who's who of the two main militias in Iraq: the Mahdi Army, also known as Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM, and the Badr Organization, also known as the Badr Brigade or Badr Corps.

One document on the Karrada district police chief says: "I strongly believe that he is a member of Badr Corps and tends to turn a blind eye to JAM activity." Another explains that the station commander in the al-Amil neighborhood "is afraid to report suspected militia members in his organization due to fear of reprisals."

American soldiers said that although they gather evidence of police ties to the militias and present it to Iraqi officials, no one has ever been criminally charged or even lost their jobs.

Among the worst of the suspected Mahdi Army members is Lt. Col. Musa Khadim Lazim Asadi, station commander of the Ghazaliyah patrol police. "He has stated to us that he does not believe the Mahdi Militia is a bad organization," a military report said. "He had a picture of Sadr in his vehicle until we said something about it."

"He is a cancer to the station and the people of Ghazaliyah," the report concluded.

Among Ani's bosses are the police chief for all of Baghdad, who has been linked to the Mahdi Army, and the minister of the interior, who is a member of Sadr's political bloc.

"I think he's trying to do the right thing," said Lt. Col Aaron Dean, the battalion commander, as he walked to his Humvee after the meeting with Ani. "But I know they're all under certain influences. If you take a big stand against the militias, they're going to come after you."

The difficulty of eliminating corruption and militias from the Iraqi police forces can be exasperating for the American soldiers who risk their lives day after day to train them. "We can keep getting in our Humvees every day, but nothing is going to work unless the politicians do their job and move against the militias," Moore said.

Sitting in the battalion's war room with four other members of his team, Moore estimated it would take 30 to 40 years before the Iraqi police could function properly, perhaps longer if the militia infiltration and corruption continue to increase. His colleagues nodded.

"It's very, very slow-moving," Estes said.

"No," said Sgt. 1st Class William T. King Jr., another member of the team. "It's moving in reverse."

posted by Steve @ 12:31:00 AM

12:31:00 AM

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