Security chaos in Iraq
Bragging by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki about his son’s responsibilities has unveiled the extent of the country’s security problems, writes Salah Nasrawi
There has been much debate about Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s off-the-cuff remarks and bombast, but his disclosure recently that his son was leading the crackdown on his opponents was stunning to many Iraqis, who have viewed the remarks as being reminiscent of the powers once exercised by the sons of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
Al-Maliki’s revelation that he had sanctioned a police raid by his son Ahmed against opponents also underscored the dilemma of the Iraqi security forces, which have failed to curtail the sectarian violence that many Iraqis believe is driving the country closer to the brink of civil war.
In a televised interview on 9 October, Al-Maliki admitted that he had authorised his son to arrest a contractor wanted on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion and the possession of arms.
“Though they have an arrest warrant to go and get this man, the security forces were afraid to do so because he is well connected and has ties with the media,” Al-Maliki told Al-Sumeria television.
“But Ahmed said, ‘give me the arrest warrant and I will bring him incommunicado,’ and this is what he did,” Al-Maliki said, adding that this was the second time that he had asked his son to carry out an arrest order.
“Ahmed is tough,” Al-Maliki boasted.
However, many Iraqis were outraged by Al-Maliki’s admission that he was assigning his son police duties. Some said the remarks were deliberately crafted to scare the prime minister’s critics.
Al-Maliki’s pampering of his son has also rekindled Iraqis’ memories of Uday and Qusay, Saddam’s two hated sons, who were reported to have been responsible for many ruthless acts, including crackdowns and torture, when their father was in power.
Reacting to the revelation, some in the Iraqi media criticised Al-Maliki’s statement and ridiculed him for making his son the “Green Zone Cop”, a reference to the fortified centre of Baghdad.
Others mocked him for turning Baghdad’s tightly secured central zone, which hosts key government offices and foreign embassies, into the “State of Hamoudi”, a reference to Ahmed’s nickname.
Many media outlets reported that despite Al-Maliki’s brag, the contractor in question had not been arrested and had even allowed to escape abroad. They suggested that the row had actually been about the kickbacks that the contractor had failed to pay to Ahmed.
Meanwhile, lawmakers snubbed Al-Maliki for letting his son take security matters into his own hands. Some MPs expressed their discontent over what they perceived as the humiliation by Al-Maliki of the country’s army and police.
“This is an insult to the army and the security forces that are fighting terrorists,” Hakim Al-Zamili, a member of the parliament’s security and defence committee, said.
Opponents said Al-Maliki’s remarks sent a strong negative message to the security forces to the effect that they were incapable of carrying out their duties in ensuring law and order.
Even some of Al-Maliki’s allies expressed their shock at his admission.
“When the prime minister says a million-man force cannot arrest a wanted thief, this is damning evidence of failure,” said Transport Minister Hadi Al-Amiri, a close ally of the prime minister and head of the Shia Badr Organisation.
Ahmed has long been rumoured to use his influence as one of his father’s key aides in filling official roles. In 2009, a Wikileaks cable described Ahmed, 27, as being a member of Al-Maliki’s inner circle, identifying him as the head of Al-Maliki’s private office.
However, Al-Maliki has not seemed troubled by the criticisms, though his spokesman, Ali Al-Mousawi, said Ahmed had been acting in his capacity as “the official responsible for state property in the Green Zone.”
By deciding to trumpet his son’s role in state security matters, Al-Maliki has retriggered criticisms of his heavy-handed style of leadership. He has also sparked fears that he could be tightening his control over Iraq’s embattled security forces ahead of crucial parliamentary elections next year.
The debate also extends to the realm of the Iraqi security forces’ effectiveness, which are widely seen as sectarian, corrupt, untrustworthy and incompetent.
Indeed, Al-Maliki’s disclosure speaks volumes about the inefficiency of the security forces, which have been largely blamed for failing to stop the bloodshed in the violence-ripped country.
The row comes as sectarian violence in Iraq is spiralling amid fears that the country is sliding into a civil war. Iraq has seen a sharp increase in retaliatory Sunni-Shia attacks in recent months, and more than 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed this year.
It also comes as Iraq’s fractious government remains sharply divided over legislation governing power and wealth-sharing among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups, especially a new and controversial draft elections law that distributes seats in parliament among the provinces.
However, the scandal concerning Al-Maliki’s son has now put the focus on the security forces’ infrastructure, operational capabilities, performance and relationship with the government.
In recent months, there have been increasing signs of growing dissatisfaction with the security forces as a result of their apparent inability to end the insurgency waged by Al-Qaeda, remnants of the former Saddam regime, and other Sunni militants.
Since the withdrawal of US troops from the country in December 2011, these groups have thrived in Baghdad and other Sunni-populated provinces, carrying out daring attacks and almost daily bombings targeting Shias and the security forces.
Tensions between Iraq’s Shia-led government and the Sunni community escalated following large-scale sit-ins across Sunni-populated provinces early this year, in protests against what the Sunnis see as their marginalisation after Saddam was ousted by the US-led invasion of the country in 2003.
Iraq’s security forces stand as an emblem of the sense of insecurity in the country, personifying in Iraqi minds the crux of the problem of rebuilding their devastated nation.
Most Iraqis are losing their faith in the security forces’ ability to ensure security, and while the Sunnis complain that the security forces are dominated by the Shias, some Shia politicians accuse the top army and police commanders of being former Saddam loyalists and say they lack allegiance to the government and interest in fighting the rebels.
On the other hand, many army and police generals have reportedly been complaining about the autocratic and unprofessional way Al-Maliki, also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has been running the security portfolio.
One of their main complaints has been that he has been stuffing the army and police with unskilled and sometimes untrained officers who are former members of Shia militias or loyalists to Shia groups in the government.
Iraq’s armed forces also face major problems such as corruption, extortion and lack of discipline.
On Sunday, Iraqi newspapers reported that Al-Maliki had formed a new joint operational command for the army and police, apparently to circumvent top generals who are not trusted by the government.
In recent weeks, reports have also surfaced that Al-Maliki’s government plans to form a new elite division that would be tasked with fighting the Sunni insurgency.
Iraq has 17 army divisions that form the backbone of its nearly half a million ground forces plus naval and air force units. In addition, there are some 400,000 police who operate as a paramilitary force.
According to press reports, the new division will be composed of Shias only and will be assigned the duty of protecting Shia-populated areas around Baghdad.
There have also been reports that Shia militias, previously disbanded, are now considering plans to merge in a unified force to fight the Sunni insurgency.
News reports have suggested that the plans to create the new unified militia seemed to have received the blessing of Al-Maliki and other Shia leaders in the government.
The hope is that a unified force will help to protect the Shias and prevent local militias taking matters into their own hands.
Many Shia politicians and clergy have been pressing Al-Maliki to allow Shia militias, such as the Badr Organisation, formed in Iran and fighting alongside Iranians in the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s, to take part in policing Shia cities and neighbourhoods.
Others have suggested that locals in hotbed areas be armed and allowed to form vigilante groups to defend Shia neighbourhoods.
But critics point to the mistakes and incompetence of Al-Maliki, who has shown himself to be incapable of managing both the political and the security portfolios and stopping the country’s unrelenting descent into chaos.
Central to this deep-seated sense of angst has been Al-Maliki’s failure to achieve the national reconciliation that would bring peace and stability to the deeply divided nation.
His inability, or unwillingness, to craft a credible national security strategy and build all-inclusive armed forces will only serve to reinforce Sunni suspicions and consequently insecurity in the war-torn country.
Many now fear that the politicians’ security responsibilities, such as in the case of Al-Maliki’s son, or the mobilising of Shia paramilitary groups, will provide cover for non-state actors and militias.
This will further exacerbate Iraq’s sectarian conflict and drive the country to the brink of all-out civil war.