U.S. tightens grip on Iraqi special police

More military will oversee units to quell abuse

December 30, 2005|By LOUISE ROUG | LOUISE ROUG,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. officials announced plans yesterday to rein in Iraqi special police forces, increasing the number of troops assigned to work with them and requiring permission for Iraqi raids in Baghdad, after a series of abuse scandals that have inflamed sectarian tensions.

The decision to impose more day-to-day oversight suggests a recognition within the U.S. military that the heavy-handed tactics of some Iraqi units, which are to increasingly take on the role of fighting insurgents, have aggravated sectarian tensions that help fuel the insurgency.

More than 1 1/2 years after the formal end of the occupation, it also illustrates that Americans still carry the final word on security matters and are not afraid to flex their muscles.

Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, have complained of being targeted by the security forces that now are controlled by Shiites. The bodies of hundreds of Sunni men have been fished out of the Tigris River and found in abandoned lots and garbage dumps. Many were tied, blindfolded and shot execution-style. Relatives often say their family members were taken away by Iraqi security forces, or people dressed as such.

The announcement also comes after several abuse scandals involving Interior Ministry forces. Last month, U.S. troops raided a secret prison where ministry forces were holding dozens of emaciated and tortured inmates, many of them Sunnis.

Sunni anger at the new order in Iraq has fueled the insurgency.

In addition, Shiites also say they have been the victims of retaliatory killings. Yesterday, a truck driver visiting relatives in a suburb south of Baghdad found that the entire 14-member family had been shot and killed. In other violence, a suicide bomber disguised in a police uniform killed four police officers at a checkpoint near the Interior Ministry, officials said.

Currently, seven of the nine Iraqi special police brigades in Baghdad each have 40 to 45 Americans attached to them. Under the new plan, hundreds of additional troops are to "partner" with each of the nine brigades.

The plan will be implemented in the capital first but could serve as a model for the rest of the country, said a senior U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of training Iraqi troops, said the penetration of the police by militias was "a serious problem. ... We don't tolerate the presence of militias when we encounter it."

Dempsey said the Iraqi government is ambivalent about the existence of militias, which complicates the problem. While the Iraqi constitution forbids militias to act as a national army, it permits regions to have "home guards" or "regional guards."

By increasing the number of U.S. troops that work with the police units, Americans will be better able to mentor and train the Iraqi police units, much as they are doing now with the Iraqi army, said the official who spoke anonymously.

Since a raid in mid-November in which mistreated prisoners were found at a Baghdad prison, U.S. officials say American and Iraqi investigators have discovered crowding and indications of mistreatment of detainees at two other Baghdad facilities and at another in the northwestern city of Tall Afar.

Earlier this week, the U.S. military announced it will delay the handover of U.S.-run prisons.

Also yesterday, an international team agreed to review Iraq's parliamentary elections, a decision lauded by Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups who have staged repeated protests around Iraq complaining of widespread fraud and intimidation.

Meanwhile, gunmen killed 12 members of an extended Shiite family near Latifiyah, a Sunni Arab-dominated town about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Police said the men were taken from their homes, packed into a minivan and shot.

The decision by the International Mission for Iraqi Elections to send a team of assessors should help placate opposition complaints of ballot box rigging and mollify those groups who felt their views were not being heard, especially among hard-line Sunni Arab parties.

In Poland, President Lech Kaczynski said he has approved extending the country's military mission in Iraq for another year.

Kaczynski decided "to extend the duration of the mission" through Dec. 31, 2006, reversing a decision by Poland's last government to bring the troops home within weeks, his office said in a brief statement.

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz's government requested Tuesday that Kaczynski, the commander in chief of Poland's armed forces, reverse plans by the previous government to bring home troops serving with the U.S.-led coalition in early 2006.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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