Iraqis Suspend Police Brigade

Times Staff Writers

Iraqi authorities said Wednesday that they have suspended an entire brigade of as many as 1,200 police officers for suspected connections to kidnappings and executions.

The Interior Ministry said it would recall and retrain the national police’s 8th Brigade, based in the capital, after witnesses reported that men wearing police uniforms were behind the kidnapping Sunday of 26 workers at a south Baghdad meat processing plant.

Six of the workers later were found dead. One who had been shot and left for dead apparently crawled away to a military checkpoint, authorities said.


The decommissioning comes after street protests erupted at one of the police unit’s checkpoints in the capital, and U.S. military officials requested that one of the three battalions in the brigade be recalled.

“There is clear evidence that there was some complicity in allowing death squad elements to move freely, when in fact they were supposed to be impeding their movement, that perhaps they did not respond as rapidly when reports were made,” said Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

He said the Iraqi government had “lost trust and confidence in the

The decommissioning is the latest in a series of moves being undertaken by Iraqi and U.S. military authorities to combat the possible infiltration of Iraq’s army and security services by insurgents or sectarian combatants.

The crackdown on the police came on another deadly day for U.S. troops, four of whom were killed by small-arms fire while on patrol northwest of Baghdad, according to U.S. military authorities. A fifth soldier died of wounds sustained a day earlier near Kirkuk, bringing the total since Saturday to 21 U.S. military fatalities.

Nationwide, nine Iraqi police officers died in violence. Six were killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdadi, in Al Anbar province. One was killed and three were wounded during a demonstration at a police station in central Baghdad. Two more died in an attack on a police patrol in Baqubah, north of the capital.

In Baghdad, a car bomb apparently aimed at a convoy belonging to Industry Minister Fawzi Hariri killed 14 civilians and injured more than 70. Hariri wasn’t in the car.

Ministry of Health statistics released Wednesday show that 2,667 civilians died violently in September, and 2,994 were injured, a level consistent with the summer’s high monthly tallies. A substantial number of them fell victim to death squads, which often pull passersby off sidewalks, seize people from their homes, or drag motorists out of their cars. Their bodies often are found bearing gunshot wounds and signs of torture.

Authorities said they had documented a near-record number of bomb attacks, including both car bombs and roadside explosives.

Government and military officials increasingly fear that the police and other security services have links to corruption and sectarian violence. Since June, the Interior Ministry has fired 1,700 officers suspected of corruption, abuse of authority or other violations, a ministry spokesman told The Times.

In the incident Sunday at the frozen-meat processing plant in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Amil, about half a dozen men claiming to be police officers entered and began asking employees for identification cards before ordering most of them into a truck and driving away.

At another location, the employees were beaten and then separated into Sunnis and Shiites, with the Shiites permitted to leave, according to a survivor who was interviewed by investigators from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

A military source said the kidnappers asked one man, “Why are you working with these Sunnis?” before releasing him.

All of the shooting victims were Sunnis.

Cartridge casings found at the scene of the kidnapping match those used in handguns carried by Iraqi police, but differ from those most commonly used on the street, military investigators said.

Wednesday’s actions came after Army Lt. Col. John Norris, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade’s 23rd forward battalion, issued a request to decommission the first of the Iraqi unit’s three battalions.

U.S. military officials said the Interior Ministry already had opened an investigation of possible connections or cooperation between the brigade and death squads operating in the capital, and it moved to decommission the unit after the protests and Norris’ request.

“The case that was building against the 8th Brigade of the Iraqi national police that works in Amil was based on corruption, infiltration, complacency and possibly committing sectarian murders in their area of responsibility,” Norris said in an interview.

“They set up checkpoints throughout the town, they run patrols throughout their area of responsibility, so the question that begs to be answered is, why were they having such a spike in murders in their area?” he said. “When they have a significant number of checkpoints that should facilitate controlling traffic and providing security.”

He said the apparent disparity raised a question: “Are they contributing to security, or are they causing the poor security conditions?”

Interior Ministry spokesman Alaa Taie said the decommissioning and retraining would allow the government to determine whether charges lodged against the unit had any basis.

“Were there deficiencies and failures that resulted in the kidnapping ... and is it true that there was cooperation between the police and the militias? This is what we hope to find out,” he said.

A report for the Council on Foreign Relations last year said there was “widespread” infiltration of security forces by insurgents, including hard-core fighters who slipped through the hiring checks and sympathizers who helped militias and insurgents. Some police appeared to help the insurgents out of intimidation and fear, the report said.

U.S. authorities who were overseeing the early formation of the police forces were forced to rely on local expertise in evaluating who was suitable, said report author Sharon Otterman, former associate director of the council.

“The other big issue is who, exactly, were they trying to keep out of the forces? At the beginning, it was more a concern of looking for former Baathists,” she said. “Now what we’re seeing is infiltration of every kind of group -- the Shia militias, not to mention the Sunnis, and everybody else.”

Sunni lawmakers have complained of Shiite infiltration of security services not only in Baghdad, but also in many quarters of Iraq. Others complain that Sunni Arab militias are working hand in hand with the police to target other groups.

“The security has deteriorated, and the fact is clear that these infiltrations are partly responsible,” said Mohammed Daini, a Sunni member of parliament. Daini has alleged that senior army officers in the Diyala region appear to have connections to Shiite militias or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

“There is an outrageous intervention by Iranian intelligence [in the police],” Daini said. “We can say that death squads are inside the Iraqi government, through their existence in the army and the police. And this is known to the Americans.”

U.S. military officials said members of the 8th Brigade would be retrained by Iraqis under U.S. guidance, and some officers might lose their jobs or face prosecution.

Taie said authorities had not received any direct evidence that sectarian militias had infiltrated the police brigade, but he said the issue of infiltration was “natural” with a police force formed under conditions of chaos, constant threat and sectarian violence.

“When you try to found an institution under terrible circumstances of disturbed security, infiltrations can be possible,” he said. “But it’s important that the Ministry of Interior and the elected government are working to restore security and follow up on not only the corruptors, but the terrorists.”