2005 May 03 Tuesday
New Iraq Police Force Beats And Kills Prisoners

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"

In fact, many of the old members of Saddam Hussein's security forces are filling the ranks of the new police units and security forces. And many of these hardened soldiers practiced in the brutality of his regime initially received no Western-style training, says Robert Perito, an expert on post conflict security at the US Institute of Peace.

"In the long run, with the assistance of the US military unfortunately ... [we are creating] a security force which is very much like the old Saddam security forces," says Perito. "That's not what we set out to do."

But will we get fooled again?

America is fighting for soldiers' democracy.

But Jabbar and Ali say instinct often takes over when they arrest someone whom they are sure is an insurgent. They also say they're concerned that if they don't exact some justice, no one will.

"It's soldiers' democracy," says Jabbar. "The reason we want to kill them is because of rumors that the Americans will release them."

I'm reminded of late great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and how he proposed a democracy in which only people who have served in the military should have the right to vote. Iraqi special forces soldier Ali Jabbar thinks soldiers engage in democracy by beating suspected terrorists to death. You might think of this as a form of participatory democracy. Each whack with a "donkey stick" on a suspect's body is a vote of sorts.

The whole article is pretty interesting though not surprising. The Iraqi soldiers and police are quite willing to beat suspected terrorists to death. One of the special forces soldiers interviewed for the article took part in beating a few suspected terrorists to death when the suspects were found to have pictures of soldiers stored on their cell phones. That strikes me as strong evidence that the suspects were terrorists. But to an American court that probably wouldn't be convincing evidence. Well, in Iraq that sort of evidence gets you beat to death on the spot by enthusiastic democracy advocates.

On the bright side Saddam's security forces broke the bulk of the resistance to Saddam's regime and therefore these same people might manage to reestablish control and slow the death rate of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers. But they are busily doing things that make the Abu Ghraib abuses seem mild in comparison. The Western press doesn't mind Arabs cracking Arab heads. External pressure will not prevent development of a more effective and brutal police state.

My question about Iraq is pretty simple to state: Will the Iraqi government be able to recruit enough determined and properly incentivized police and special forces to beat the insurgents into submission? The answer to that question will decide the outcome in Iraq.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 May 03 11:03 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures

Rick Darby said at May 4, 2005 8:23 AM:

I remember a novel of Heinlein's -- Starship Troopers? -- in which only people who had served in the military could be citizens. But did Heinlein personally advocate a system like that? In fiction, an author can imaginatively create a culture with a set of values that aren't his own, just as an actor can play a role without becoming like the character. I don't know what Heinlein's views were; I'm just asking.

Anyway, I would disagree with such a political system. Not everyone is cut out to be a soldier. Some are not physically capable of it; some personalities just don't jibe with military thinking; in neither case does that necessarily make a person a bad citizen. (But I can see no serious objection to making it a requirement for citizenship that a person serve society for a specified period in some capacity that requires personal sacrifice and self-discipline.)

As for the stories of Iraqi police beating suspects to death, if true that makes me sick. It's like the bad old days when we supported any military dictator as long as they played the anti-Communist card.

Invisible Scientist said at May 4, 2005 11:15 AM:

It seems that the United States basically entered the trap of the century by invading Iraq, because it was clear from the beginning that in order to bring order to Iraq, only very brutal force can be effective, just like Saddam's regime. This was because of the demographic and geographic composition of Iraq: that Saddam's system came to power, was not an accident.

But now, in the long run, all the suffering in Iraq, will be blamed on the United States: this is a public relations disaster for the United States, and it plays to the hands of practically anywone who has an interest in making the United States look bad. Similarly, all the dictatorial pro-American regimes in he world, make the United States look bad.

Brock said at May 5, 2005 7:27 PM:

"But now, in the long run, all the suffering in Iraq, will be blamed on the United States"

Um, no. You should read a similar article in the New York Times Magazine (by Peter Maass? I think so). It covers the same topic, but is much longer in length and more deeply researched. It's a Times piece, so its no friend of the invasion, but it presents some more data to work with. The Iraqi people know where the terrorists plaguing Iraq come from: Syria, Saudia Arabia, and other Arab states. They know who puts hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in mass graves: Saddam. Now the most active counter-insurgency police force in Iraq is lead by a Sunni and largely staffed by Sunnis. They have contacts and good relations with a lot of the tribes and power-brokers in the Sunni triangle, where 90% of the fighting is taking place.

Don't get me wrong, I don't support torture or beatings. It's terrible. But the situation is more complex than you think. Mainly, it's not about us. The USA is not the center of the Universe. The insurgency in Iraq is about the future of Islam, and it's a war between muslims. We support one side, yes, but it's not our fight to win. They need to do it, and learn from their mistakes.

Like I said, read the NY Times Magazine piece. It's in the current issue. Much more detail.

Randall Parker said at May 5, 2005 7:54 PM:

The Peter Maass article is entitled The Way of the Commandos.

Also see Sabrina Tavernise's Iraq's Violence Sweeps Away All the Norms.

Brock said at May 6, 2005 6:06 AM:

Randall, thanks for the link. That was the one I meant, but I couldn't remember the title.

That second article was powerful too. I still think that Iraq is better off now than under Saddam (Uday, for instance, would not have returned that girl), but it's clearly still a hard life and will be for many years. I don't know how people get through living like that, though I expect Colombian, Northern Irish and many others would have useful lessons for the Iraqis on how to cope.

Jack said at May 9, 2005 11:46 PM:

"I don't know how people get through living like that, though I expect Colombian, Northern Irish and many others would have useful lessons for the Iraqis on how to cope."

I don't think so as the difference is neither the Colombian or the N.Irish were extensively bombed over a 15-yr period, had severe sanctions that affected the general populace but not the ruling class, and went through two major wars.

but back to the subject at hand:
In age-old parlance the US has replaced one SOB with another SOB - but hell, hes our SOB.
The danger is that the same intelligensia that planned these campaigns for over 10 years now look like they will fall into the same traps the Soviets did in Afghanistan. Absolute belief that your system and beliefs are better (and perhaps it very well is) and supreme millitary might doesn't guarantee anything other than daily body counts.
The locals have (many) different agenda and interpretations on 'democracy', 'policing' and 'society'. A few MacDonalds, 7-elevens and Playboy magazine won't change that.

Consolidating occupation and quickly executing an exit strategy equals a successful campaign, but the temptation is for making a US footprint in the region; this pleases the ruling junta in Saudi as well as the Israelis. It also sends an important message to the Iranians, but only time will see that their encirclement (from Iraq through the 'stans) is to be constructive or an-overreach of US millitary capacity.
I'm sure many in Pyonyang and Beijing will view this with great interest.

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