Corruption and political patronage in Iraq's Interior Ministry threaten U.S. efforts to transfer responsibility for public safety to Iraq's police, military analysts said ahead of Gen. David H. Petraeus' long-awaited report to Congress today.
Control of the ministry, which nominally controls nearly 500,000 police and other nonmilitary security forces across Iraq, has become more of a political "struggle for survival and supremacy" than an attempt to bring stability to Iraq, said Matthew Sherman, a former adviser to the Iraqi interior minister.
Run largely by the three main Shi'ite parties — Dawa, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Fadhila — the ministry and its forces "are being used in ways we cannot contain or control," said Mr. Sherman, now a senior adviser to the Scowcroft Group, a consulting firm founded by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Andrew Rathmell, director of the UK Iraq MOI Reform Project, which is sponsored by the British government, said U.S. plans to turn authority over to Iraqi police have repeatedly been frustrated because of "over-optimism and self-delusion" about the readiness of the Iraqi forces.
"Every single timeline we have had for security transition since 2003 has failed," Mr. Rathmell said. Both he and Mr. Sherman spoke yesterday at a Washington event organized by the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace.
Gen. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are to begin two days of testimony in Congress today, reporting on plans for future U.S. deployments and progress since the U.S. troop surge began early last year.
During those hearings, they are expected to find many legislators anxious to see security responsibilities transferred to Iraqi forces so that U.S. troops can be freed up for service in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"The bottom line is that we need a strategy that will clearly shift the burden of war-fighting to the Iraqis, so we can begin to respond to other challenges in the region," said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.
The performance of Iraqi forces in the fight for control of Basra last week illustrated the difficulty of building a reliable Iraqi army and police force.
The Iraqi government offensive against forces loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ended in a stalemate amid reports that hundreds of Iraqi police switched sides and backed Sheik al-Sadr's militia.
Gunbattles continued yesterday in Baghdad's main Shi'ite district of Sadr City, which is named for Sheik al-Sadr's father and is a stronghold of the sheik's Mahdi Army militia.
At least 10 U.S. soldiers have died in the past two days, the Associated Press reported.
A recent increase in violence threatens to undermine earlier progress during the surge, in which attacks on Americans and Iraqis dropped sharply.
Gen. Petraeus is expected to recommend that the U.S. keep 140,000 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, down from peak levels of nearly 170,000 but a disappointment to critics of the war who had hoped for bigger cutbacks.
Analysts who spoke in Washington yesterday warned that new police officers will tend to be more loyal to Sheik al-Sadr's militia than the Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Mr. al-Maliki warned Sheik al-Sadr on Sunday to disband his militia or face a ban from politics. Sheik al-Sadr also reportedly offered to disband his militia yesterday if he is asked to do so by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other senior clerics.
Sheik al-Sadr's supporters also are powerful in the Facilities Protection Services (FPS), which consists of 140,000 to 160,000 armed guards assigned to protect individual ministries but fall under Interior Ministry jurisdiction.
"There is a large [Mahdi Army] element in FPS uniform," Mr. Rathmell said.
The core of the strategy going forward, said Mr. Rathmell, will be to shrink the number of groups competing for power outside the political process, and reducing the influence of key Shi'ites inside the ministry in favor of bringing in Sunni groups.
"Politics runs throughout the security sector," he said.
• David R. Sands contributed to this report.