U.S. starts work on new police forces

Little short-term help expected to control looting, lawlessness

War In Iraq

April 12, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - American officers in Iraq have begun working with local Iraqi officials to try to form the nucleus of new police forces, but that effort is unlikely to do much in the short term to quell the looting and lawlessness now seen in much of the country, defense officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld minimized the disorder yesterday as inevitable as Iraq moves from a repressive to a freer system of government.

"You cannot do everything instantaneously," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing, defending the Bush administration against charges that it had done too little to foresee or to put down the outbreak of crime and violence.

"It's untidy," he added, "and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to commit mistakes, and to commit crimes and do bad things."

In the short term, Rumsfeld said, U.S. forces would try to stop the worst of the violence, but he also said U.S. troops were too busy with combat to take on a primary policing role.

In Basra, Nasariyah, Najaf and other cities, the defense officials said, civil affairs officers and special forces are coordinating an effort to identify Iraqis who can take charge of new or reconstituted police forces. But they said progress had varied widely, and they offered no clear timelines for when policing might begin.

Baghdad presents particular problems, they said, and the United States will almost certainly have to start from scratch to establish a police force independent of Saddam Hussein's government. During the battle for the city, local police officers are believed to have assisted security forces in directing artillery at U.S. troops.

Rumsfeld and other administration officials said U.S. troops would do their best, when they could, to halt egregious crimes. But for the most part, they suggested that most of the violence would subside on its on its own after an initial explosion of pent-up Iraqi resentment was spent.

Even with more than 130,000 American soldiers now in Iraq, both the defense secretary and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military's main focus for now would remain firmly fixed on other tasks.

"The first thing you do is to try to end the war and to stop people from killing people, or stop people from blowing up trucks in people's faces and stop people from doing a whole series of things that are unhelpful," Rumsfeld said.

With critics like Amnesty International leveling complaints at what they portray as U.S. inaction in the face of civil disorder, and countries like Canada and Denmark publicly offering to help with policing, the defense secretary was plainly on the defensive yesterday when he was questioned about the matter at a Pentagon briefing.

"In every country, in my adult lifetime, that's had the wonderful opportunity to do that, to move from a repressed dictatorial regime to something that's freer, we've seen in that transition period there is untidiness," he said. He criticized what he called the "sky is falling" tone of some news reports that characterized the situation in parts of Iraq as anarchy.

In its statement yesterday, Amnesty International called on the United States and Britain "to urgently deploy adequate numbers of troops with appropriate training to maintain law and order in Iraq." The group said the two countries shared that responsibility "as occupying powers."

Canada, which refused to join in the American-led war in Iraq, said yesterday that it was prepared to send police to the country, but suggested that it believed such a mission should be coordinated by the United Nations. Denmark offered to send military personnel and police to the country once fighting ends.

"Denmark must assume responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq," said Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said he expected his country's parliament to give approval for about 380 military personnel and up to 25 police officers to be sent to postwar Iraq to help with reconstruction and provide security to aid agencies.

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