Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Maliki’s Private Security Forces?

On February 17 members of the Baghdad Brigade arrested the secretary of parliamentarian Mohammad al-Daini. Nine days before members of the same unit detained Daini’s chief bodyguard. That began the latest drama in Iraq’s parliament as Daini was accused of involvement in a series of terrorist and criminal acts. The events also highlighted one of two security units that have come to be increasingly scrutinized by Iraqi lawmakers.

The Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Unit have been accused of being Prime Minister’s private security forces. The Baghdad Brigade has been in charge of the Green Zone since it was handed over by the U.S. on New Year’s day 2009. It is led by General Emaad Yahseen Al Zuhary, and is officially part of the Army. Its’ operations against Daini’s staff shows that it apparently has police powers in other parts of the capital. The Counterterrorism force is an elite unit of over 4,000 that focuses upon militias, the insurgency, kidnappings, and gangs. The unit was brought together in April 2007 under the Counterterrorism Bureau created by the Prime Minister. The Unit is actually independent from both the Defense and Interior ministries. Nouri al-Maliki has just put forward a bill in parliament that would institutionalize their independence by creating their own budget. Both the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Unit also answer directly to the Prime Minister. This is what has led some Iraqi politicians to question these two forces, and Maliki’s intentions. Some of their uses have also added to the controversy.

The Counterterrorism Unit was the first one to gain notoriety when it raided the Diyala provincial council headquarters in August 2008. The unit arrested the provincial security chief and the president of Diyala University, but along the way killed the governor’s secretary and one of his bodyguards, beat the deputy governor, and got into a firefight with local police killing four officers. Baghdad claimed the two arrested officials were on a wanted list, but then later claimed that it was a rogue operation. Few believed that explanation since the unit is under the direct control of Maliki. Some thought it was the Prime Minister asserting his control over the provincial council. Several of the Sunni members of the council from the Iraqi Islamic Party, including the arrested provincial security chief, were trying to reach out and co-opt the province’s Sons of Iraq (SOI) in preparation for the provincial elections. At the same time Maliki was intent on breaking the SOI by creating a rival Diyala tribal support council to lure away their members, while arresting others. The bungled raid was part of this struggle between Baghdad and the province.

In December 20008 the Counterterrorism Unit also arrested several Interior Ministry officials. The supposed reasons for their detentions ranged everywhere from plotting a coup, to being former Baathists, to planning arson in the Interior Ministry building, to making fake IDs to gain access to the ministry. The fact that the Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani had a different story for the arrests than Maliki would point to another use of the special force to send a political message. Al-Bolani is the leader of the Constitutional Party that ran in the provincial elections. He was said to have used the security forces and his position to expand the party. The arrests could have been a sign by the Prime Minister that Bolani needed to watch his steps before the January 2009 vote.

Maliki has increasingly used the security forces against his political rivals, and to impose his will and the authority of the central government over parts of the country. This began when he sent the security forces after the Mahdi Army in Basra in March 2008. Since then he has also employed them against the Sunni insurgents, the Sons of Iraq, the Kurds, the Sunnis of Diyala, and the Interior Ministry. If the charges against al-Daini prove to be true, it shows that the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Unit are not just used at Maliki’s whim. At the same time, Iraq has few to any real checks and balances on the power of the prime minister, and the rule of law is weak. That has caused growing concern amongst parliamentarians over Maliki’s moves to create these two forces that are independent from the rest of the security forces and ministries, and only answer to him.


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