- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

The well-coordinated military attack on the police station and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps in Fallujah this week that killed dozens should serve as the final wake-up call to U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on the way security is being handled in the country.

The Lebanese attackers who died in the assault confirm the alliance between the local network of die-hard Ba’athists and the foreign Islamic fighters. It is also a stark indication of the level of organization and sophistication the two have developed, despite growing Iraqi anger at their tactics, which increasingly and purposefully target the Iraqi people.

The insurgents were able to build such a level of organization because of U.S. complacency and the slow and reactive, rather than proactive, policy in combating the remnants of the former regime, coupled with the apparent tolerance of the flow of international terrorists into the country.

The sad truth in Iraq today is that the majority of the people — those who do not support the insurgents — is on the defensive. The insurgent minority knows it and is on the offensive and getting bolder daily.

The tables must be turned if the country is to have any hope of moving forward.

This defensive position is particularly alarming given the analysis by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, a top al Qaeda operative in Iraq who wrote a 13-page letter found last month by Kurdish security. He saw the increased Iraqi role in security as a setback for them. He pointed out that the U.S. army was leaving the cities and was being replaced by Iraqis. “This is the real problem that faces us,” he wrote. “Our war with the Americans was easy. They were visible, ignorant of the land and the reality of the Mujahidin because of their lack of intelligence and knowledge.”

If they perceive the Iraqis as a more difficult challenge, how is it they are able to strike with such deadly force against the Iraqi police and army?

The answer lies partly in the fact that the Iraqis have their hands tied.

“They neither do a good job themselves, nor do they let us do it ourselves,” points out an Iraqi police officer. In addition to a lack of clear authority, the Iraqi police force is quickly trained and woefully ill-equipped — they were out gunned to an alarming level in Fallujah.

A complaint by Iraqi police, heard repeatedly since last summer, is that prisoners taken by Iraqis must be turned over to Americans who then seem to routinely release them.

Policemen say they arrest suspects known to be organizing secret cells of the insurgency or providing support. After they are in U.S. hands, they are quickly released for “lack of evidence” or because a relative, who may work with the Americans, is able to call in a favor.

Following the release, the suspect returns to his neighborhood, confident and emboldened. Quite often, the suspect retaliates against the policeman who arrested him. He tells his family and friends how naive Americans are and how cushy their prisons and interrogation techniques are compared to Saddam Hussein’s methods.

Many police officers say they have simply stopped reporting or arresting known Ba’ath party and foreign operatives.

Many police are so intimidated they demand to work in areas where people don’t know them, which defeats the purpose of Iraqis handling security. Some even leave their police uniforms at work to hide the fact that they are officers.

Some are so frightened that they offer classified information to neighborhood operatives to protect themselves or their families.

Other Iraqis who work with CPA or government offices keep it a well-guarded secret in their neighborhoods. Once word gets out, they are likely to find a note slipped under their door or tossed in the front yard. “Spies are like occupiers,” one note reads. “Both deserve to be killed. The wise understand the signs.”

The police do not serve as a deterrent against those who openly recruit for the insurgents or call for violence against anyone supporting reconstruction efforts.

Hard-line preachers of the Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam openly call for jihad against Americans and praise the work of the “resistance” in their Friday sermons, which are blared across neighborhoods via loudspeakers.

This offensive posture encourages the many conspiracy theorists, who say that the United States is deliberately keeping security ineffective to attract as many members of al Qaeda as possible to shift the battleground from the United States to Iraq. It also bolsters the argument of those who say the United States needs the country in chaos to justify a long-term presence in Iraq.

But the majority of Iraqis, who are on the defensive, believe the weak position of Iraqi police and other security is due to pure CPA mismanagement and lack of sound judgment.

The only way forward is to turn the tables: The Iraqis must be empowered. They must be trusted with their country’s security and given the tools to accomplish that task. Only then will they become the force to be reckoned with that Zarqawi and his ilk fear.

Hiwa Osman is a Baghdad-based journalist.

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