News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraq's interior ministry refusing to deploy US-trained police

Iraq’s interior ministry refusing to deploy US-trained police

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The Guardian: Iraq’s interior ministry is refusing to deploy thousands of police recruits who have been trained by the US and the UK and is hiring its own men and putting them on the streets, according to western security advisers. The Guardian

· Plans for non-sectarian force under threat
· Rice insists that power of militias must be curbed

Jonathan Steele in Baghdad

Iraq’s interior ministry is refusing to deploy thousands of police recruits who have been trained by the US and the UK and is hiring its own men and putting them on the streets, according to western security advisers.

The move is frustrating US and British efforts to build up a non-sectarian Iraqi police force which would not be infiltrated by partisan militias.

The disclosure highlights growing US and British concern about the role of militias in sectarian killings, and their links to senior Iraqi politicians. “You can’t have in a democracy various groups with arms – you have to have the state with a monopoly on power,” Condoleeza Rice, the US secretary of state, said at the end of her two-day visit to Baghdad yesterday.

“We have sent very, very strong messages repeatedly, and not just on this visit, that one of the first things … is that there is going to be a reining in of the militias… It’s got to be one of the highest priorities.”

The interior ministry, which is controlled by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), has not deployed any graduates of the civilian police assistance training team (CPATT), a joint US/UK unit, for the past three months.

The CPATT was designed to put the police on a fair footing after Saddam Hussein’s 30-year dictatorship. Its goal is to train 134,000 officers by the end of the year and ensure an equitable ethnic and sectarian balance.

The ministry’s refusal to use the new graduates is causing alarm. “There are concerns about the infiltration of the police by extremist groups and the coalition is right to be concerned about transparency,” a western security adviser told the Guardian.

Senior ministry officials say they refuse to deploy the graduates because they have no control over the CPATT’s selection process.

Sunni politicians and residents of Baghdad have claimed that the ministry supports several “death squads” which are said to be responsible for abducting and murdering hundreds of Sunnis in recent weeks.

In one incident last week, men dressed in the camouflage uniforms of police commandos drove up in three vehicles and stormed into an electrical appliances store in Mansour, a middle-class Sunni district of west Baghdad. They rounded up three young women employees and five males in a room and shot them dead.

It emerged late last year that the interior ministry has been running secret detention centres. US troops discovered two prisons in which more than 800 men and boys, mostly Sunnis, were held in shocking conditions. Under the Iraqi constitution only the ministry of justice is allowed to run prisons.

Many Sunnis now say they would rather be detained by the Americans than the Iraqi police.

No figures are available for the police’s religious and ethnic make-up outside Kurdistan, partly because there is no central data base, but estimates put it at 80% Shia. Until recently the special police and commando units were 99% Shia, according to a CPATT spokesperson.

Charges that the police were becoming partisan developed after Bayan Jabr, a SCIRI leader, became interior minister last April. The SCIRI’s powerful armed wing, the Badr organisation, was founded in Iran during the supreme council’s 20-year exile from the Saddam Hussein regime.

According to the International Crisis Group thinktank, Mr Jabr worked with the commander of the Badr organisation and its intelligence chief to give Iraq’s police and paramilitary forces a sectarian thrust.He infiltrated Badr militia members into the commando units set up in 2004 to fight the anti-occupation insurgency.

Mr Jabr has denied that commando units have been involved in murders and says criminals use police uniforms to hide their identity.

Sectarian violence continued yesterday with a car bomb exploding near a Shia mosque in north-eastern Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounding 30.

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