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IRAQ - Towards Disarming Militias.

With the US repeatedly calling for all armed groups to be dissolved - but with the Kurds' Pesh Merga in the north called an exceptional case by the Americans - Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani has been under considerable pressure from Western officials and some Iraqi leaders to purge his ministry of sectarian influence. On Oct. 13 Bolani, a Shi'ite, said he was preparing to make significant personnel changes at the command level of the ministry and that he had sufficient political backing to carry them out.

When he took office in late May, Bolani vowed to reform the ministry, which oversees Iraq's police forces. US officials and Sunni Arab leaders have accused the ministry of harbouring senior managers who, during the previous government, tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shi'ite militias into the police forces. But though Bolani has made some strides towards accomplishing his reform goals, including firing thousands of employees, US diplomats and some Iraqi officials have said he has lacked the political support to conduct the necessary purges, particularly at the upper levels of his administration. But the minister on Oct. 13 insisted that he had received the support of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, to make all the necessary changes among his top commanders.

The New York Times on Oct. 13 quoted Bolani as saying: "We have an urgent need. We have to have changes at this level. All the senior employees of the Interior Ministry are in a cycle of change". He did not reveal whom he intended to replace or fire but said his recommendations were currently being reviewed by a governmental committee. The NYT quoted US "officials close to the ministry", as saying among those commanders Bolani may go after was Adnan al-Asadi, the deputy minister of administration whom the Americans call "Triple A". US officials say Bolani has wanted to oust Asadi on suspicions of abetting the Shi'ite militias but has been too apprehensive to go through with it. Bolani on Oct. 13 denied these assertions, but The NYT quoted "an official close to the minister as saying of Asadi: "Let's just see how long he sticks around".

Bolani's appointment in May was praised by US officials because he was viewed as more independent from the ruling Shi'ite parties than other leading candidates for the job. US advisers and Iraqi officials say he appears committed to cleaning up the ministry. But even his supporters suspect that the same quality which made him an attractive candidate, his political independence, has left him without the muscle to make radical, necessary changes in the institution. The minister, however, insisted in the interview, which was also attended by reporters from two other US newspapers, that he was trying to transform the ministry from top to bottom. Among his achievements at making the ministry more law-abiding and transparent, Bolani said, was his firing of more than 3,000 employees since he took over, some for corruption and human rights violations, and the referral of 300-600 of those cases to the Iraqi court system. He pointed to the recent suspension of an entire Iraqi police brigade on suspicions that some members may have allowed, or even participated in, death squad killings. He has been pushing to enact a law to ban the ministry's 167,000 employees from belonging to a political party. He said: "Change is a natural process for an institution that wants to move forward".

The NYT said the political sensitivity of Bolani's position was "plainly evident during the interview" on Oct. 13, as he sidestepped questions about sectarian and political influence in the ministry. He refused repeatedly, for instance, to either confirm or deny whether there was militia influence in his security forces. He said he did not approve of the militias, calling them "a new threat to the political process of Iraq". Among them, he said, was Jaysh al-Mahdi, a vast militia loyal to the Shi'ite mullah Muqtada al-Sadr. On Oct. 13, Sadr issued a vaguely worded statement which said he would publicly repudiate any militia member who conducted attacks "with no right". His militia has been accused of being complicit in the wave of sectarian killings which have engulfed the country and is widely believed to have infiltrated the Interior Ministry forces. The statement did not clarify what constituted a rightful attack.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Date:Oct 16, 2006
Words:719
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