The risks of rapid 'Iraqification'
A transfer of policing duties to Iraqis could reduce US casualties, but moving too quickly may fail to quell the violence.
WASHINGTON — The way to solve the security problem in Iraq, says the White House, is to transfer responsibility for keeping the peace to Iraqis themselves as soon as possible.
It's a strategy with obvious advantages. Iraqis might be better than Americans at tracking down Iraqi insurgents. At the very least, US casualties might go down.
But there are risks to Iraqification as well - particularly if the process is rushed. Simply switching US patrols for Iraqi ones is unlikely to cause guerrilla units to stop fighting. Despite hopeful talk about quickly pushing native police onto the street, security training takes time if done right and does not necessarily produce elite units.
It may be difficult to keep old Baathists out of new forces. Reports indicate that the US may back creation of a paramilitary open to former Iraqi intelligence personnel. Ensuring that such a service is not penetrated by insurgents could prove especially trying.
"We've got a tough row to hoe here, and I don't know how we are going to get out of it," says ex-CIA director Adm. Stansfield Turner.
From Washington the idea of quieting Iraq via quick creation of Iraqi forces seems logical. In recent weeks, US officials have talked constantly about the need to hurry up and get newly trained Iraqi conscripts on the beat.
Since the US took Baghdad "we've gone from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing security in that country, and our plan calls for us to go over 200,000 by next year," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a broadcast interview last Sunday.
The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has itself pushed for more muscle to deal with the escalating insurgent attacks. According to the Washington Post, a recent letter from the IGC to President Bush begged for more authority to pursue insurgents as they see fit.
Iraqis "are more able than others to handle this matter," writes Jalal Talabani, current council president.
But some officials and consultants who have visited Iraq recently to work on security matters say that the US hope for quick "iraqification" may well be misplaced.
The regimen for producing members of Iraq's new civil defense corps is short, and getting shorter, some say.
"These are guys with one week of training," says a former intelligence officer who spent decades in the region and recently rotated through Baghdad. "They work with US troops. They're not the Army. You can't beef that up."
The plan to hand over most internal security responsibility by next summer is unrealistic, says this source. Calling back units of the Hussein-era Iraqi Army might work, if they are carefully vetted and given carefully chosen assignments.
"You could put them on the border with Iran. That might work," says the ex- intelligence agent.
Training for the new Iraqi police is longer than one week, but it remains far short of the rigor US police departments employ. And even many big cities in the US have problems with police brutality, faked evidence, and other abuses of authority.
The haste to get police on the job is matched by the haste with which the US is pursuing political development in Iraq, notes Edward Peck, a former chief of mission in Baghdad and deputy director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism during the Reagan administration.
Secretary of State Colin Powell originally gave a deadline of six months to write a new Iraqi constitution.
"It took 13 colonies about five years to write [the US constitution], and the European [Union] is grappling terribly trying to get a constitution together," says Mr. Peck.
According to The Washington Post, the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, has tentatively decided to support the call of the Iraqi Governing Council for a paramilitary force made up of former members of Iraq's intelligence services, plus members of political party militias.
Such a force might provide the IGC with a potent weapon to track down former members of the regime and stop attacks. But it might also bring back into favor some of the more unsavory members of the Hussein regime, as vetting in this case would be particularly difficult.
"We have the US getting rid of Saddam and his terrible, brutal secret police and now we're bringing them back," says Peck.
Furthermore, insurgents would likely to continue to attack Iraqi police, and even nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross, which they see as simply doing the bidding of the US. "There is that perception that many NGOs are nothing but puppets for the US," says Ayad Al-Qazzaz, an Iraqi native who is teaches at California State University at Sacramento.