Iraqis may consolidate Baghdad security forces
May 12, 2006
BAGHDAD — U.S. military officials downplayed newly disclosed Iraqi government plans to overhaul the Baghdad-area security forces by placing all police officers and paramilitary soldiers under one commander.
“It is nothing more than an idea,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said at his regular Thursday news conference. “There is no set plan or set date for that to go into effect.”
The plan calls for all Iraqi police in Baghdad to wear a common uniform, drive similar patrol vehicles and report to a single police chief. Iraqi officials said the reorganization, which was first reported by the New York Times, would begin soon, but provided no specific timetable.
The Iraqi army would not be affected by the reorganization.
Currently, Baghdad is filled with thousands of gun-toting paramilitary forces whose identities and allegiances are often unclear. The ambiguity has created an environment that allows private militias and alleged death squads to flourish. Many Iraqis blame Shiite-led militias for much of the sectarian killings in the capital.
Putting all the government police forces in a single, easily identifiable uniform will help identify rogue paramilitary forces and quell the low-grade civil war that is forcing thousands of Iraqis to leave demographically mixed neighborhoods, Iraqi officials said.
Lynch said the proposal highlights efforts by Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki to address the persistent security problems in the capital.
“What you have here is a prime minister who is thinking about ways to provide unity, prosperity and security for the Iraqi people,” Lynch said.
Lynch noted that Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey continues to work with the police and the Ministry of Interior to improve their system for command and control of various police units. Dempsey is commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, also known as MNSTCI.
At first glance, the police reorganization sounds like a reasonable plan, Lynch said.
“I am an advocate of unity of command; all military professionals are,” Lynch said.
Yet he added that there has been “no substantive analysis” of how this proposed restructuring would affect the relationship between U.S. troops and the Iraqi police. The restructuring comes at a time when U.S. forces have stepped up efforts to train Iraqi police.
Disarming nongovernmental militia is a key demand from local Sunni leaders, whom U.S. troops are trying to co-opt in their fight against the largely Sunni-led insurgency.
Although the Iraqi Ministry of Interior denies involvement in the attacks, killings by gunmen dressed as police have fueled complaints from Sunni residents that the ministry tacitly supports the sectarian violence.
In many places, the Iraqi army has a far greater day-to-day role in security compared to the fledgling police forces.
American troops have vowed to disarm various militias, but some paramilitary organizations, such as the Mahdi militia, remain intact with an implicit understanding that they cannot operate openly with weapons in front of U.S. troops.
Control of the Iraqi security forces is a key point of contention that the new government has not resolved. The reorganization would affect thousands of security forces assigned to protect Iraq’s infrastructure, like its oil pipelines and electrical plants. These paramilitary troops are under the command of the ministries to which they are assigned.