Sunday, November 14, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities are moving against enemy informants and sympathizers in the ranks of the nation’s hastily trained security forces by firing thousands of police officers and taking over from Americans the screening of new recruits.

Such informants are believed to have undermined numerous operations and tipped off terrorists, who last month killed 49 unarmed Iraqi army recruits as they traveled by bus near the Iranian border.

“Most of the screening as far as the staff is up to the Iraqi staff now,” said U.S. Army Capt. Kevin Bradley, who trains Iraqi national guardsmen. “Right now, whether or not the person is clean, it depends on the Iraqis.”

With a major offensive under way against Fallujah and other bases of the Sunni-led insurgency, U.S. military commanders were forced to shift troops to Mosul last week after American-trained Iraqi police fled their posts and turned parts of the city over to militants without firing a shot.

In Fallujah yesterday, U.S. military officials said American troops had occupied the entire city and there were no more major concentrations of insurgents still fighting after nearly a week of intense urban combat.

A U.S. officer told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that Fallujah was “occupied but not subdued.” Artillery and air strikes were halted after nightfall to prevent mistaken attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces who had taken up positions throughout the city.

Military operations also surged along the Euphrates River valley well to the north and west of Baghdad, with clashes reported in Qaim on the Syrian border and in Hit and Ramadi, nearer to the capital.

Mosul’s police chief was fired last week, as was the police chief of Samarra, after waves of insurgent attacks.

They are among the latest of thousands of police officers whom U.S. and Iraqi officials confirm have been fired for incompetence or suspected insurgent sentiments since Iraqis regained sovereignty from coalition forces at the end of June.

The action follows frequent reports of police officers who publicly express support for the insurgency or do not act against terrorists who plant roadside bombs.

“There are some good people in the security services who are the ex-military people,” said Iraqi army Lt. Bashar Sadigha, who attended Rostemiya Military Academy near Baghdad during Saddam Hussein’s regime. “But there are many people who signed up just to be able to earn a living.”

The Iraqi armed forces, meanwhile, have taken charge of their own recruiting. They often employ methods that, while falling short of U.S. civil rights standards, are proving effective, Capt. Bradley said.

In April, when fighting broke out in various parts of the country, many Iraqi soldiers and police ran for their lives or handed their weapons to the attackers.

Iraqi authorities have raised the recruitment age from 17 to 20 and instituted new rules to keep anti-government sympathizers out of the ranks.

Each recruit must now bring a letter of approval from his local community council, and each military base now dispatches committees to new recruits’ neighborhoods to check on their “moral background,” Maj. Ala al-Khifajey of the Iraqi national guard said.

What’s more, nepotism is now the rule: Every new recruit must have a relative already in the service to vouch for him.

“We know our people,” he said. “We know who to recruit and who to reject.”

That marks a sharp departure from the methods used by the Americans, who ran the recruiting program the way they were used to doing at home, Maj. al-Khifajey said.

“The American way was, you fill out a three-page application form, they check your name against their list of terrorists, and after a medical and fitness test, you had the job.”

But privacy rules and fair-hiring practices simply didn’t work in a country surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies, infiltrated by suicidal Islamic extremists and ravaged by decades of poverty and war, he said.

“Maybe 10 years down the line we’ll have the kind of society where a man can just walk in off the street and sign up for the army,” Maj. al-Khifajey said, “but definitely not now.”

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