Iraq’s interior minister pledged Sunday to clean up the country’s law enforcement ranks, widely viewed as a primary cause of ongoing violence and instability.
Jawad Bolani, a member of the ruling Shiite Muslim coalition and former mechanical engineer who took over the ministry about six weeks ago, vowed to purge within weeks “unfaithful and corrupt elements, who do not believe in the democratic political project in Iraq, and who managed to penetrate” the ministry.
Bolani’s statement before parliament came on a day in which bloodshed continued to roil Iraq, including the deaths of at least four U.S. Marines reported killed in combat.
“At the beginning of September there will be changes to the sensitive and important positions in the ministry,” Bolani told reporters after addressing parliament. “The ministry is unwilling to keep those individuals who mishandle authority and violate human rights.”
The nation’s police, who work under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, have been accused of spawning death squads responsible for sectarian killings, such as those of 22 civilians found with signs of torture and execution-style gunshot wounds Sunday in various parts of Baghdad and Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of the capital. In many cases, groups of men dressed in police or army uniforms have kidnapped or killed large groups of civilians.
Initiatives Bolani outlined to clean up the police force include issuing difficult-to-forge badges for officers and vehicles, new uniforms, special paint for police cars and a new program for licensing weapons.
Col. Saddoun Abulollah, a spokesman for Bolani, acknowledged that “there are extremists who are abusing their position” in the ministry.
“But,” he said, “the minister has no involvement.”
He said the Bolani had already begun taking important steps to bring law enforcement under control. Unlike his predecessor, Bayan Jabr, who oversaw the ministry from a palace inside the U.S.-protected Green Zone, Bolani has moved his offices to the gigantic north Baghdad ministry itself, where he personally oversees department heads and gives awards to officers who perform heroic feats, such as defusing bombs.
“He interviews them himself and gives them a cash bonus and a letter of commendation,” Abulollah said.
Bolani has thus far launched 13 investigations of police officers charged with crimes ranging from improper detention of suspects to shaking down people for bribes. He’s also launched a major investigation of the office that issues Iraqi passports, which has been rife with corruption.
Steps to rein in the sprawling force of 300,000 officers include recalling police vehicles assigned to political leaders.
Abulollah said that at the same time, the Iraqi people should honor their police. More than 3,000 police officers have been killed and 3,000 maimed in the line of duty since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in spring 2003. Shrines with photographs of the fallen officers stand in each department of the ministry headquarters.
Iraq’s police continue to be the frequent targets of attack. On Sunday, a roadside bomb seriously injured two police officers in Baghdad. Another bomb killed a police officer in Baqubah. Insurgents near the northern city of Kirkuk killed four Iraqi police officers in an ambush on the road between the oil-rich city and the Sunni Arab city of Tikrit to the southwest.
Reports in Iraqi and Western media depicting law enforcement officials as corrupt and predatory have given certain “political groups” the message that it’s open season on Iraqi cops, Abulollah said. Unlike his predecessors, Bolani is a political independent who needs public support, he said.
“We’re paying a very high price,” he said. “These stories have very bad consequences for us.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, in the Jordanian capital, Amman, en route to Baghdad said he would act carefully before dismantling the militia groups that have sprung up throughout the country in the face of the security vacuum.
“There are many political, military and economic steps that will ultimately lead to dissolving or integrating the militias in such a manner that does not cause any tension and that assures the Iraqis and those shielding themselves behind militias that the government will be responsible for security,” he said.
But in Iraq’s south, British forces took a less delicate approach. They continued attacks on cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Al Mahdi militia, arresting one leader in Basra and killing another during confrontations in Amarah, police said.
The military released little information about the deaths of the four Marines. A press release said they were assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 and “died due to enemy action” while operating in the western province of Al Anbar.
Special correspondents in Baqubah and Kirkuk contributed to this report.