Iraqi forces reportedly pressured to underreport violence
August 16, 2010
BAGHDAD — Iraqi security forces are under pressure from higher commands to underreport acts of violence — especially politically motivated assassinations — to give the impression of stability as the country watches U.S. combat troops leave and waits for its own government to form, according to a senior-level Iraqi army intelligence officer.
The officer, who did not want his name used because he feared he or his family could become a target of the violence, said he believed Iraqi leaders’ focus on building a new government instead of fighting violence was buying time for various factions and militias to prepare more and more attacks.
The officer also said he believed that Iraqi security forces are not ready to secure the country as U.S. forces draw down to 50,000 advisory troops by Sept. 1.
The remarks about the state of Iraqi forces join a rising chorus of public comments by U.S. and Iraqi military leaders in recent days who say some pieces of Iraq’s security forces will not be able to operate independently by the 2011 deadline for total U.S. withdrawal.
“There are some things that as we move forward, because it was always a long-term proposition, they won’t be capable of at ‘end of mission,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Scott Hanson, the Air Force general charged with helping to train up the fledgling Iraqi air force. “They realize that. We realize that.”
Hanson spoke Friday as 300 soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division prepared to board a C-130 to make the first leg of their journey back to Fort Lewis, Wash. The brigade began its exit late last week as a final piece of drawing down combat troops by the end of the month and transitioning the remaining troops into advisory and training roles.
The brigade spent the last year working with Iraqi forces and gathering evidence against violent factions in western Baghdad, home to 22 government ministries and embassies, according to Col. John Norris, the brigade’s commander.
Early in the brigade’s tour, groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq targeted government centers, a trend that continues in attacks on traffic checkpoints and individuals, Norris said. But overall, he said, major violent attacks have been down, and he credited Iraqi forces with stemming that tide.
“It’s not an appropriate term to say that any violence is acceptable,” Norris said. “But that’s not going to destroy the progress or the future of this country. What will destroy the progress of the future of this country, most likely, is if spectacular attacks continue to grow against the seat of the government.”
But the Iraqi intelligence officer, who has more than 20 years of military experience, said Sunday that those attacks are likely to increase. To date, he said, the Iraqi military relies on intelligence from the Americans, a situation he worries about as U.S. troops leave.
Lt. Col. Samuel Fiol, the brigade’s intelligence officer, said this weekend that teaching Iraqi forces about tracking attacks and gathering intelligence — especially forensic evidence — has proved difficult.
When the brigade first arrived, Fiol said, he found the brigade’s reports of violence were consistently higher than those from the Iraqi military in the same area. Local Iraqi commanders were reluctant to report incidents, fearing they would be taken as signs of failure, rather than as a way to look for motives and trends to catch the perpetrators.
To impress his point about collecting materials, he even showed some officials a clip from the television police drama “CSI” to impress upon them the importance of evidence.
“It was painful,” Norris said of the educational process. “We took every Iraqi general in Baghdad to our forensics labs. Then we started working on the Iraqi forensic labs.”
Norris says the efforts are working. In the last year, the brigade helped the 6th Iraqi Army Division issue more than 100 warrants. In one case, an Iraqi general handed over a black garbage bag filled with blood-smeared evidence from a bombing to the brigade for processing. The brigade gave the Iraqis enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant based on a DNA match, the country’s first.
Eleven forensic labs are scheduled to go on line in Iraq this year, Norris said. That has captured the attackers’ attentions, he said.
“Al-Qaida knows about the forensics labs,” he said, “because they blew one up.”
The Iraqi intelligence officer worries those lessons learned by his forces may fall by the wayside as U.S. troops leave. He said that despite working with U.S. and other coalition forces for years, Iraqi troops have not retained much of what they learn, and many in the force are young or inexperienced officers who are promoted too quickly, often for political reasons.
Politics, too, remains unsettled. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi are still vying for political power after March elections left a two-seat difference in parliament.
On Sunday, 11 people died across the country in attacks, including an anti-al-Qaida militia member in Abu Ghraib, the brigade’s former patrol area, The Associated Press reported Sunday evening. A bomb was attached to his car. It killed him and wounded two of his bodyguards, AP reported.