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Feb 23, 2007

Old Problems Undermine New Security Plan for Baghdad

(NYT) -- I'm just going to post an extended quotation:

It was a translator working with the Americans, interviewed a day after the fact, who had overheard the Iraqi police tipping off the Iraqis. “They were telling people in the neighborhood to hide your weapons from the Americans,” he said. The police were Shiites, he said, and inclined to favor others of their sect in the district, which is mostly Shiite but has a considerable Sunni population.

On another patrol, an American commander said, Iraqi residents told American soldiers that a national policemen had warned them to hide anything incriminating including paraphernalia about Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite militia leader whose forces are targets of the Baghdad crackdown.

“Families told us he was warning people before we’d come in, ‘If you have this or that, then hide it before they get here,’ ” said First Lt. Andy Moffit, who led a platoon through Shaab and Ur. The major problem with Iraqi forces is not their tactical skill, but their “loyalties and integrity,” he said.

On that score, he said, “We’ve still got years to go.”

Fearful of police ties to the militias, some residents questioned by the Americans about militia activity refused to say anything until the police were led out of the room.

Moreover, some Iraqi forces made little effort to hide their true allegiance. In one police truck an amulet stamped with the image of Imam Hussein, the revered Shiite martyr, swung from a rearview mirror. Next to it was a green Shiite flag, taped to the inside of the windshield. The truck’s radio blared chants heard during Ashura, a Shiite religious holiday.

To many Sunnis the Iraqi forces remain little more than instruments of Shiite hegemony, and the Baghdad plan appears to have done little to change that view.

“They can’t protect the Sunnis in the Shiite districts, and they will never fight the militias because they are from the same sect,” said Ahmed al-Mashhadani, a Sunni resident of west Baghdad, where other Baghdad security operations took place last week. “We don’t trust them, and if American troops leave, we will call back the resistance platoons to protect ourselves.”

American troops in northeast Baghdad heard the same refrain from Shiites who said that only their own militias could protect them from Sunni insurgents. “Before, the Mahdi Army checkpoints used to check each vehicle that came in here,” lamented one Facilities Protection Service guard, a Shiite, at a warehouse in Ur. “Now, the Iraqi police aren’t really checking each vehicle.” ...

The thoroughness of the inspections can vary widely. In one hour at an Iraqi checkpoint in Karada, a mostly Shiite neighborhood, on Feb. 16, the police allowed more than 150 vehicles to pass while pulling over about 25. In only three cases did they open the trunks. They found nothing. At another checkpoint a mile away, near the Green Zone, most of the cars were pulled aside, and eventually traffic snaked for a mile.

Then a sedan containing six young men pulled up to barriers set up by interior ministry commandos. The driver, apparently referring to an unspecified militia, said, “I’m with the guys,” said an Iraqi reporter for The New York Times who had heard the exchange. The car was immediately sent through.

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