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IRAQ: Law and Order in Postwar Iraq

Author: Sharon Otterman
April 16, 2003

Who is in charge of law and order in postwar Iraq?

For now, the United States and Great Britain, and it appears that will remain the case for some months. In response to postwar urban chaos--looters and arsonists rampaging through Baghdad and elsewhere--U.S and British troops have begun patrolling cities. Efforts are being made to reconstitute an Iraqi police force cleansed of Saddam Hussein loyalists, and U.S. officials are recruiting police to help from other countries.

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Who is commanding the troops that have taken on security duties?

General Tommy Franks, the chief U.S. commander in the region, supervises security operations. Retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who is in charge of civil reconstruction, oversees Iraqi police forces; Garner reports to Franks. As the de facto occupying powers, Britain and the United States are obliged under international law to provide security. No one in authority is willing to be pinned down on when responsibility for law and order will pass to a new Iraqi government.

Will the United Nations be involved in policing Iraq?

That's unlikely. Because of the bitter divisions the war has caused at the United Nations, there is little prospect U.N. peacekeepers will be dispatched to Iraq. President Bush has said that the United Nations will play a "vital" role in rebuilding Iraq, but he and other top U.S. officials want to limit U.N. participation to humanitarian relief. Coalition forces are expected to dominate security operations.

Will other countries help with security?

Yes. Italy's Parliament has voted to deploy a team of 2,500 to 3,000 personnel to Iraq, including military engineers and carabinieri (military police). Denmark is considering a proposal to send up to 25 police officers and 380 troops to help with reconstruction and protect aid agencies, and the Netherlands has said it might send 600 marines to help maintain order. Bulgaria, a vocal backer of the Iraq war and a participant in peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, says it will send peacekeeping troops to Iraq in May. Canada, Spain, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have also reportedly offered to help with security.

Is the United States meeting its security obligations?

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have protested the presence of U.S. troops, who they have accused of not doing enough to establish law and order, prevent looting, and restore basic services such as electricity. Amnesty International has called on the Pentagon "to urgently deploy adequate numbers of troops with appropriate training to maintain law and order in Iraq." But, according to Brigadier General Vincent K. Brooks of the U.S. Central Command, "At no time do we really see becoming a police force."

How important is security to Iraq's future?

At the moment, it should be the highest priority, experts say. "Public security is the foundation or enabler for all else with respect to postwar reconstruction," says retired Army Major General William L. Nash, who was a commander in the 1991 Gulf War and a U.N. civilian administrator in Kosovo. It's essential, he says, to a country's economic, social, and political development. Experts also say that, along with protecting Iraqi civilians and U.S. and British troops, assuring the security of aid workers and their facilities is a top concern because it affects the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

What are the major concerns?

According to some experts, security issues in Iraq are among the most complex the U.S. military has ever confronted. Iraq is an ethnically and religiously diverse country of 25 million people, many of whom may have access to weapons. There are large numbers of regime loyalists still unaccounted for and many other citizens who bear grudges against the Saddam regime or may try to assert control in the current power vacuum.

What is the immediate threat?

Guerrilla-style attacks on U.S. and British troops and on Iraqi civilians by remnants of the regime are expected to continue. Some experts expect a rash of revenge killings. The widespread looting of government offices, public buildings, humanitarian aid facilities, and private homes that occurred just after the fall of has diminished.

What are the first steps a police force should take?

One of the most important things, experts say, is to deploy a widespread police presence to reassure the public and reduce the temptation to commit crimes.

Has that occurred?

It is starting to happen. In several Iraqi cities, U.S. and British troops--including military police and U.S. Special Operations Forces--are detaining looters and conducting patrols. Troops are also carrying out joint patrols with local police in Baghdad, Basra, and other cities. Nighttime curfews, which experts say can be a powerful crime-fighting tool, have been imposed in some cities. Units have also begun to examine Iraqi police for ties to Saddam's regime.

Will the United States be able to rid Iraq's police force of Saddam loyalists?

It's not clear. Washington reportedly intends to make use of existing law-enforcement structures as much as possible. The plan is to restructure the Shurta, Iraq's national police, and expel members with close ties to the fallen regime--but it's not certain exactly how these ties would be evaluated. According to Brooks, "We'll have to rely heavily on what the population tells us about these individuals, and we'll also have to rely on any additional information that we may have about individuals. But the bottom line is Iraqis need to go back to work."

The Bush administration has said that this process will take a year to complete and it may be months after that, officials say, before the success of the project can be judged. Some experts have said that in southern Iraq and in Baghdad, for example, it's difficult to find anyone in a position of authority without ties to the former regime.

When will Iraqis take over responsibility for their own security?

It will vary by location. Iraqis have already taken on a limited security role in many areas. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said on April 6 that it might take more than six months to cede power to the Iraqi Interim Authority, the transitional government that is being set up, but afterward shied away from offering a timetable.

How are Iraqis helping to enforce law and order?

In cities such as Basra and Karbala, hundreds of Iraqi volunteers are reportedly patrolling the streets. In Basra, Shiite religious leaders called on the local population to stop looting and turn in their weapons. In Baghdad, the United States has urged police officers to return to work, and hundreds of Iraqis are reportedly seeking jobs in the reconstituted force.

How many U.S. troops are needed to secure Iraq?

This is a subject of debate. General Eric K. Shinseki, who commanded U.S. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, has said a force of several hundred thousand troops is needed. Pentagon officials say the number is closer to 100,000.

Are U.S. forces capable of taking on a policing role?

Some experts warn that most U.S. forces are not trained or empowered to perform tasks such as settling civil disturbances and enforcing the law. In an April 15 International Herald Tribune, op-ed, Nash and Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, argue that there are insufficient numbers of U.S. military police and civil affairs officers in Iraq to maintain peace and suggest that foreign constabulary forces could play an important role. "Italy's carabinieri, France's gendarmes, and Spain's Guardia Civil specifically train to straddle the blurry security line between war and peace," they write.

How do constabulary forces differ from combat units and civilian police?

Constabulary forces are organized like military units but are less heavily armed than combat soldiers. They are chiefly responsible for controlling riots and large-scale organized violence. They receive more weapons training than police typically do, but they perform such police-related tasks as handling evidence, making arrests, investigating crimes, interrogating suspects, and negotiating in hostage takings. In Iraq, constabulary forces would be under the control of the U.S. military administration.

What role have constabulary forces played in other post-conflict situations?

The best recent example, according to Nash, is the Italian carabinieri's role in the Balkans. In Bosnia and Kosovo, he says, the Italians successfully carried out a variety of missions, including riot control and making arrests.

Will American civilian police play a security role in Iraq?

That's the plan. The State Department is collecting bids from U.S. contractors to put together a team of some 1,000 former police officers and lawyers to train Iraqi police and help restructure the country's judicial and prison system.

What is the cost of policing postwar Iraq?

It could reach hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars, according to senior defense officials.

Where will the money come from?

It's not clear. According to U.S. officials, funding would come through the State or Defense departments and would require new appropriations by Congress. Bush administration officials are hoping that contributions from allies, frozen Iraqi assets, and proceeds from the Iraqi oil industry will help offset security costs.

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