Purge pledged by Iraqi interior minister

Al-Bolani vows to rid police ranks of `unfaithful, corrupt elements'


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's interior minister pledged before parliament yesterday to clean up the country's law-enforcement ranks, widely viewed as a primary cause of violence and instability.

Jawad al-Bolani, a member of the ruling Shiite Muslim coalition who took over the ministry about six weeks ago, vowed to purge within weeks "unfaithful and corrupt elements, who do not believe in the democratic political project in Iraq, and who managed to penetrate" the ministry.

After addressing parliament, al-Bolani told reporters that "at the beginning of September there will be changes to the sensitive and important positions in the ministry. ... The ministry is unwilling to keep those individuals who mishandle authority and violate human rights."

The nation's police, who work under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, have been accused of spawning death squads responsible for sectarian killings, such as the 22 civilians found dead with execution-style gunshot wounds yesterday in Baghdad and Baqouba. In many cases, men dressed in police or army uniforms have kidnapped or killed civilians.

Initiatives that al-Bolani outlined to clean up the police force include issuing forge-proof badges for officers and vehicles, new uniforms, special paint for police cars and a new program for licensing weapons.

Col. Saddoun Abulollah, a spokesman for al-Bolani, acknowledged that there "there are extremists who are abusing their position" in the ministry.

Abulollah said the interior minister has taken important steps to control law enforcement. Unlike his predecessor, Bayan Jabr, who oversaw the ministry from a palace inside the U.S.-protected Green Zone, Al-Bolani has moved into the north Baghdad ministry, where he oversees department heads and gives awards to officers who perform heroic feats, such as defusing bombs.

Al-Bolani has begun 13 investigations of police officers charged with crimes, including improper detention of suspects and bribery, Abulollah said. He's also launched a major investigation of the office that issues Iraqi passports, which is rife with corruption. Steps to rein in the force of 300,000 officers include recalling police vehicles assigned to political leaders.

At the same time, Abulollah said, Iraqis should honor their police. More than 3,000 officers have been killed and 3,000 maimed in the line of fire since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

Reports in Iraqi and Western news media depicting law-enforcement officials as corrupt and predatory have given certain "political groups" the message that it's open season on Iraqi police, Abulollah said.

"We're paying a very high price," he said. "These stories have very bad consequences for us."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was in Amman, Jordan, en route to Baghdad, said he would act carefully before dismantling the unauthorized militia groups that have sprung up throughout the country in the face of the security vacuum.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military reported that four Marines were killed in a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. The Marines, from Regimental Combat Team 7, died Saturday in Anbar province.

So far this month, 44 U.S. service members have died in Iraq - including 10 in Anbar province in the past week.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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