Brits arrest Basra police; governate protests

The Associated Press reports Jan. 24 the arrest of police officers in Basra by British troops. What is not reported is that move has prompted an official protest from the Basra Governate. First, from the AP:

British troops launched a crackdown Tuesday on Basra’s troubled police, arresting several officers in a force long believed infiltrated by extremist Shiite militiamen with ties to neighboring Iran.

Curbing militia power is considered crucial to building trust among Iraq’s rival communities and establishing government authority, but finding a way to do it has proven elusive.

Fourteen people were detained in the early morning raids, British officials said. Nine were released but five others – all policemen – were jailed for alleged roles in murder and other crimes “connected to rival tribal and militia groups,” British spokesman Maj. Peter Cripps said.

They include Maj. Jassim al-Daraji, assistant director of Basra’s criminal intelligence department, according to police spokesman Lt. Abbas al-Basri.

“Everyone in this part of Iraq has some allegiance or grouping with a tribe or some political group or militia,” Cripps told The Associated Press. “The point … is whether their allegiances are greater to the police service or their tribe or militia.”

He said British and Iraqi forces were “trying to root out those who follow militia-like allegiances.”

Shiite-dominated Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, is located 340 miles south of Baghdad, and has been far calmer than the turbulent Sunni Arab areas where most American troops are based. Still, 10 British soldiers have been killed since May in bombings and ambushes, some of them blamed on tribal and militia groups.

Trouble escalated last September in Basra when Iraqi police arrested two British Arabic-speaking commandos during a surveillance mission. Fearing the soldiers would be transferred to militia control, British troops stormed a police station and freed the captives.

Following the incident, the local Department of Internal Affairs was abolished because of militia ties. However, those dismissed in the reorganization “got jobs in another department within the Iraqi police services in Basra,” Cripps said.

In Iraqi parlance, “militia” refers to armed groups associated with political parties, tribal leaders or religious figures. Many are Shiite and are different from the Sunni Arab insurgent groups, such as the Islamic Army of Iraq or the al-Qaida faction of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that seek to oust foreign troops and topple the U.S.-backed government.

Some are locally based and are little more than criminal gangs. Others play a role in the fight against Sunni insurgents. Some Shiite militias are believed behind killings of Sunni Arabs, often in reprisal for attacks by insurgents and religious extremists against Shiites.

Sunni Arab politicians blame Shiite militias for driving disaffected Sunnis into insurgent ranks, but U.S. efforts to persuade Shiites and Kurds to disband their militias has proven difficult in the face of the raging Sunni insurgency. Shiite and Kurdish parties dominate the current government.

The U.S. goal now is to try to integrate the militias into the police and army, where they can be controlled. However, the Bush administration acknowledged in a report to Congress last October that “the realities of Iraq’s political and security landscape” make it unlikely that goal will soon be achieved.

The militias number from a few hundred to tens of thousands of members.

Major militias include the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army – both Shiite – and the peshmerga, the Kurdish force believed to number up to 100,000. Peshmerga troops fought alongside the U.S. military in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and veterans of the Kurdish force are strongly represented in the new Iraqi army and police.

Kurdish leaders insist the peshmerga is not a militia but the legitimate security force of the three-province Kurdish Regional Government. Kurdish leaders stuck by that position in 2004 after interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced a deal to disband militias by January of this year.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr refused to accept the deal and disband his Mahdi Army, which battled U.S. forces in two uprisings. Despite an agreement last year to end the fighting, the Mahdi Army still operates in parts of Baghdad and Shiite areas of the south, including Basra.

Under U.S. pressure, the Badr Brigade changed its name to the Badr Organization for Reconstruction and Development in 2003 and maintains that it is no longer a militia. The group is linked to Iraq’s biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – senior partner in the Shiite coalition that won the biggest number of parliament seats in last month’s election.

Badr is also widely believed to have links to Iranian intelligence, and many of its key figures lived in Iran until the fall of Saddam Hussein in March 2003. Badr veterans are believed represented in ranks of the Interior Ministry special commando forces at the center of Sunni abuse charges. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is a former Badr official.

However, those units, especially the feared Wolf Brigade, are considered among the toughest fighters among government forces in the battle against insurgents. The U.S. military announced this month that it would assign up to 3,000 U.S. and international personnel to such units, not only to accelerate their training but to curb their abuses.

Our comrade Gilbert Achcar provides the following translation of an article on the Basra Governate’s statement of protest, from the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat:

British Forces Arrest 12 Police Officers in Basrah;
Governorate Council Considers Expelling Them from the City

Basrah- Al-Hayat, Jan. 25

British forces raided yesterday morning the home of Major Jasim Hasan, the deputy director of the Criminal Intelligence Division in Basrah and arrested him with other members of his family, as well as his four guards.

The staff of the Intelligence Directorate, with the support of the Al-Hallaf clan to which the arrested officer belongs, held a demonstration in front of the Governorate offices, demanding the release of the detainees and the firing of General Hasan Sawadi, the commander of Basrah police force. The demonstrators shouted slogans against British troops, threatening anyone who collaborates with them, and affirming that the demonstrations will go on in front of the Governorate offices until their demands are satisfied.

Parents of detainees belonging to the Sadrist Current and held in the jails of the British troops joined the demonstrators, demanding the release of their sons and threatening the occupation forces of more attacks against them. Mr Abu-Salam al-Khazaali, a member of the Basrah Governorate Council, said that it is high time to put an end to the behavior of the British, who “assaulted officers of the Police directorate and their families,” adding that “these officers are among the best members of the security services.” …

The Governor of Basrah, Muhammad al-Wa’eli, said that the Governorate Council is meeting “to issue important resolutions, including a resolution to expulse British troops from the city, and to refuse to deal with British firms and entrepreneurs operating in the Basrah Governorate.” He added that “British troops arrested 12 intelligence officers of the Ministry of Interior in Basrah yesterday morning without informing the administrative authorities.” He condemned “the irresponsible actions of British troops in the city and the arrest of members of the local authorities, without giving them prior notice and informing them about the measures.”

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