- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

SAMAWAH, Iraq — Tribal loyalties and blood feuds are complicating efforts by coalition trainers to bring the police in southern Iraq to Western standards of performance and accountability.

“Under the old regime, everyone deferred to the next level up,” says Chris Sparks, 50, a British police officer and a trainer at a police academy in the city of Samawah in Muthanna province. “We’re trying to empower people to take responsibility.”

Mr. Sparks, of Sussex, England, is one of more than 100 police officers from coalition countries employed by Armour Group, a company with a contract from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to train Iraqi police in Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna provinces. Armour Group has trained more than 2,000 Iraqi police officers since its first course here in July 2004.

British officers and police trainers say the traditional top-down model of leadership in the Iraqi police sometimes runs headlong into tribal and family loyalties. This spring, Mr. Sparks says, a former senior member of Iyad Allawi’s interim government pulled strings to hire 300 unemployed men, many from his own tribe, into the Samawah police force, despite academy dean Col. Fadhil Othman’s decision to suspend recruitment in the city. There are about 1,700 police in this city of half a million.

Mr. Othman, 50, a 25-year police veteran, says that half of the new recruits are illiterate. The problem, he says, is that on May 17, national police authorities in Baghdad began requiring all recruits to attend training in Jordan, and literacy is one of the prerequisites of the training.

Mr. Othman and Mr. Sparks say they’re trying to figure out what to do with the recruits. They ran a crash, six-week basic-training course with the goal of sending those who are literate to Jordan. They say they might transfer the rest to a special facilities guard service that does not require literacy.

In the meantime, until they are transferred or attend the courses in Jordan, none of the 300 recruits is drawing pay. Several police officers on patrol with the British army in Samawah in May complained that they haven’t been paid in two months.

“It’s bad news, really,” Mr. Sparks says.

“The police do have tribal influence put on them,” says Arnie Morgan, 51, one of 23 Armour Group trainers at Camp Abu Naji in Muthanna province. “We’re trying to make these people accountable to the law, firstly.”

But one Samawah police captain says his officers are doing their best to uphold the law in a society that values tribe and family over law.

“Men use their tribes to protect them,” says Capt. Ibrahim Kamil.

Last month, Capt. Kamil’s officers arrested several Iraqi men accused of carjacking. Within two hours, Capt. Kamil says, the suspects’ families attacked police. Such reprisal is common, he says. Last year, the tribe of one arrested man kidnapped the son of a judge. The boy eventually was released and so was the suspect.

Complicating this morass of tribal politics is widespread suspicion in the south of anyone with ties to the former regime. Mr. Sparks says that more than half of the Samawah police force was recruited in the Saddam Hussein era. Mr. Othman himself was a Ba’ath Party member.

Mr. Sparks says that Mr. Othman’s Ba’ath membership should be irrelevant today, but that local authorities and others in the police chain of command sometimes have refused to deal with Mr. Othman because of his old political ties, and that this may have been a factor in the debacle over illiterate recruits.

Mr. Sparks says that many former Ba’ath members in positions of power in the south are doing a good job. “But they keep having to look over their shoulders.”

Problems aside, Mr. Sparks predicts police in Samawah will have little need of Western trainers as early as the fall. But Mr. Morgan says most police forces in the south are years away from being truly independent.

“At the end of the day, we want to be able to leave Iraq in the hands of the Iraqi police service,” Mr. Morgan says.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide