Iraq: July 14, 2004

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The interim Iraqi government has, without much fanfare, launched a counterattack against crime, terrorism and anti-government gangs. Yesterday, a series of night time raids resulted in over 500 arrests. Most of these were members of gangs, particularly kidnapping gangs. The government considers crime statistics a state secret (this is an old Iraqi custom), but admits that the biggest problem is not terrorism and Baath Party diehards, but kidnappers (of Iraqi civilians) and street crime. Saddam released some 70,000 hard core criminals from prisons in the months before the 2003 war, and this alone allowed caused the crime rate to climb. After the war, with Saddams secret police and street militias out of the law and order business, the criminal gangs went wild. A lot of the deliberate looting in the immediate aftermath of the war, was done by the organized crooks. American raids in the last year rounded up some 22,000 Iraqi suspects, most of whom turned out to be common criminals, not terrorists or anti-government fighters.

The government is reviewing the 70,000 new police that the coalition recruited, trained and put into uniform. Many of these cops had worked for the Saddam government and are believed to be dirty (corrupt.) Already, over 500 police have been dismissed, or are under investigation, for corruption. The Iraqis are determined to change the image of the Iraqi cops as inept and corrupt. During Saddams decades of rules, law and order was largely delivered via secret police terror and pro-Saddam street gang violence (that is, vigilantes). Iraq is building a new police force partly by screening the current force, and firing those found dirty or inept, but also by training specialists. There are several thousand specially selected and trained detectives and technicians on duty now, and they are having a lot of success rounding up kidnappers and big time crooks. But there are still a lot of hard core criminals out there, probably over 100,000. These thugs are largely organized into gangs, if only for protection from other gangs. Turf battles between gangs are common. The crooks are well armed, but the Iraqi police are receiving over 20,000 protective vests (like the ones American troops use), as well as a lot of the specialized police tools (battering rams, night vision equipment) that U.S. troops have bought, or brought with them. In some cases, American military units sponsor local Iraqi police, giving them equipment, training on how to use it, and develop a working relationship. The Iraqi police prefer to run their own raids and other operations, but like the idea of having American troops on call if the gangsters turn out to be more numerous, and heavily armed, than expected. So American divisions often give Iraqi police commanders access to American reaction forces (groups of troops organized for instant dispatch to a local trouble spot.)

The Iraqi police are apparently turning the tide, even if they wont release much in the way of statistics. Bombings are down, and arrests are up. More neighborhoods in Iraqi cities are considered safe (you can tell by the return of active night life, with restaurants and some shops open after midnight, as is the Iraqi custom in hot weather). But its going to take years to completely clean up the police force, and the streets.

The Philippines decided to bow to terrorist demands and withdraw its 51 troops from Iraq in order to avoid the execution of a captured Filipino truck driver. There are about 4,000 Filipinos working in Iraq, and the danger to these overseas workers was big news in the Philippines, where unemployment, at 14 percent, is the highest in the region. The Philippines had a big kidnapping problem at home, until a recent government crackdown, and knows that giving in to kidnapper demands, especially terrorist kidnappers, merely encourages additional kidnappings and gets more people abducted and killed. But Filipino politicians, in the wake of a tight presidential race, saw bowing to the terrorist demands the easiest way out.

 

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