October 4, 2006

Iraqi Police Bust Iraqi Police Brigade

Hatched by Dafydd

Stealing a march on my colleague in crime here, I'm going to scoop Sachi on a piece of good news:

Iraqi authorities have taken a brigade of up to 700 policemen out of service and put members under investigation for "possible complicity" with death squads following a mass kidnapping earlier this week, the U.S. military said Wednesday....

The Iraqi police officers were decommissioned following a kidnapping Sunday when gunmen stormed a frozen food plant in the Amil district, abducted 24 workers and shot two others. The bodies of seven of the workers were found hours later but the fate of the others remains unknown.

The action appeared aimed at signaling a new seriousness in tackling police collusion with militias at a time when the government is under increased pressure to put an end to the Shiite-Sunni violence that has killed thousands this year and threatened to tear Iraq apart.

That last paragraph is no hyperbole. Everyone has known for some time that the Shia-dominated Iraqi National Police was at least turning a blind eye to Shiite militias massacring Sunnis (and rival Shia) in their relentless, sub-rosa campaign of murder and revenge; at worst, many assume that police units were actually engaged in such mass murder themselves. But the general feeling among nearly all Sunnis and even a great many Shia who actually care about their country was that the Shia-controlled government would never crack down on their "allies" in the police.

But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has finally realized that the survival of his government, indeed, the survival of Iraq as a nation, depends upon stopping the tit-for-tat butchery from breaking out into a full-scale civil war. He offered a new "security plan" a few days ago that was praised and widely accepted by all parties... and this is the first bit of "earnest money" in that plan:

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, said the Iraqi police brigade in the area had been ordered to stand down and was being retrained.

"There was some possible complicity in allowing death squad elements to move freely when they should have been impeding them," he told a Baghdad news conference. "The forces in the unit have not put their full allegiance to the government of Iraq and gave their allegiance to others," he said....

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said Tuesday that the commander of the unit, a lieutenant colonel, had been detained for investigation and the major general who commands the battalion that includes the brigade had been suspended temporarily and ordered transferred.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief ministry spokesman, said a random selection of troops in the suspended unit were being investigated for ties to militias.

This is major-league serious stuff. The investigated soldiers who turn out to have such militia ties will be prosecuted; if found guilty of killings, they may be executed under Iraqi law (which has the death penalty available). I don't know if this is likely, but it's certainly my preferred punishment.

And the commander of the brigade himself, if found to be complicit, should -- in my opinion -- also be executed. Hanged, in a proper legal way. In fact, even if there is no evidence that he knew about any militia ties, he should still be convicted in a court-martial of criminal malfeasance for failing to stop his own troops from participating in or enabling death-squads. At the very least, he should spend at least 5-7 years in a military penitentiary... Abu Ghraib, newly restored to Iraqi control, springs to mind.

That new security plan I mentioned sounds very promising, too. It includes several new ideas, of which one of the most intriguing is the creation of joint Sunni-Shiite "neighborhood watch" style committees to track violence. I firmly believe most Sunni and Shia just want the killings to stop; they're not interested in "defeating" the other -- they just want to live in peace.

While this is characterized as "vague" by the New York Times, it's actually perfectly clear. They even explain it themselves... once you get past all the defeatism, death-triumphalism (more dead Iraqis, more dead Americans, hoo-hah!), and attempts to drive away readers before reaching the good stuff. The negative occupies about two-thirds of the entire piece; once you get back to the actual story promised by the headline, see if this makes sense:

In an effort to make some strides against militias, Mr. Maliki’s security plan would create local committees of political leaders, tribal sheiks, clerics and members of the security forces that would monitor security in every Baghdad neighborhood....

The committees would have no control over the security forces and would instead function as arbitrators of local sectarian disputes, intelligence gatherers for security forces, and as a bridge between civilians and the police and army, according to lawmakers involved in drafting the plan.

“These commissions will never have any authority to lead or command security forces,” said Jalaladin al-Sagheir, a Shiite member of Parliament. “It will just let the people know that they are a part of their district’s protection.”

The local committees will report to a “central commission for peace and security,” which will work with Iraqi armed forces. There will also be a new commission for monitoring the news media, but no other details were available. The plan will be reviewed by lawmakers every month.

(That last point is probably to ensure that a supposed "news" organization isn't simply a communications relay from terrorist leaders to their troops in the field. Hm, tempting...)

This pretty specific plan actually addresses the "root cause" of much of the violence: I believe both the insecurity that makes people join or support militias and the license they think they enjoy to do anything they want (which also contributes to recruitment) stem from a single catastrophic problem: alienation. When people feel alienated from their own government -- not a part of society, disconnected from those who live around them -- they become afraid of those others, and they simultaneously see them as less than human, easily killed without a pang of conscience.

That sort of alienation from society is the major factor behind crime in the United States -- the criminal's idea that he's not really part of society, a predator on the outside looking in.

Thus, the best solution to terrorism, mass killings (whether "sectarian" or part of a power-struggle), and yes, even ordinary crime is to include as many people as possible into the arc of society. When people feel they truly belong to the society, and that the government is as much a part of society as they, they are enormously less likely to take up arms to kill their fellow countrymen.

Thus, to the extent that neighborhood-watch style committees comprising both Sunni and Shiite representatives can bridge that yawning chasm between the average Iraqi and his government, they will significantly diminish the number of borderline cases who ultimately decide to join death squads. Changing the center typically changes the margin; and if you retract the extremity of the margin, eventually you reach a tipping point where being in a death squad makes a person feel more alienated, not less.

At that point, roving death squads become unsustainable... as in the United States and other civilized countries.

(Note that in France, the riots were driven by the sense of alienation from French society by the rampaging youths of Algerian descent; this analysis is pretty universal. And no, I didn't invent it... I'm not that smart!)

Thus, I see great cause for optimism. I think that al-Maliki, whether by design or fortuitous accident, has hit upon a strategy that has a very good chance of success. Couple it with Operation Together Forward, where the U.S. concentrates more and more of its resources to Baghdad to reclaim it from the hard-core terrorists and militiamen and our systematic campaign against Muqtada Sadr outside of Baghdad (to disrupt his power base), and the basic plan emerges:

  1. Kill the current "irredeemables;"
  2. Cut power to the main militia leader, Muqtada Sadr;
  3. Undermine the sense of alienation that drive ordinary Iraqis to support death squads.

There's the plan; looks like a winner from here.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 4, 2006, at the time of 3:43 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Big D

Good plan, hard to pull off. The only other alternative is that employed by Saddam - absolute ruthless violence against anyone even suspected of being against the government.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 11:07 AM

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