By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 30, 2005
BAGHDAD, Dec. 29 -- A new U.S. program will pair American military units with Iraqi commando teams and other Interior Ministry special police units accused of abuses ranging from illegal detention to committing torture and operating death squads, U.S. military officials said Thursday.
One senior U.S. military official said the mentoring program was aimed specifically at former militia forces within the Interior Ministry, which is dominated by the current governing Shiite religious parties and those parties' factional fighters.
"We're going to try to wrap ourselves around them," the senior official said of militia loyalists within the special police. He spoke to reporters in Baghdad on condition he not be identified further.
"By hugging the enemy, wrapping our arms around them, we hope to control them . . . like we did with the army," the official said.
The U.S. military also will likely expand the work of so-called transition teams within the Interior Ministry police force and step up American military and civilian contractor involvement with local police across Iraq, said Lt. Col. Frederick Wellman, spokesman for the U.S. unit spearheading efforts to train Iraqi soldiers.
The partnership programs for Iraq's police units are modeled on an existing program that has Iraqi and U.S. military units patrolling and fighting together, Wellman said. When a "unit is specifically tasked to operate side by side, we've seen the unit absolutely just blossoms," Wellman said. "The technique worked very well on the military side, so we thought, let's try it on the police."
U.S. civilian and military leaders repeatedly have termed 2006 "the year of the police" for security-force training efforts in Iraq. In 2005, as U.S. efforts with the Iraqi army moved from building up raw numbers of Iraqi troops to helping that newly built army become self-supporting, Iraq's less-scrutinized police troops have been hit by scandal.
Sunni Arabs accuse the heavily Shiite police forces of abducting and killing scores of Sunni men since summer.
U.S. and Iraqi inspections of two Interior Ministry detention centers in Baghdad in November and December found inmates who had been tortured and starved, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said.
"The commandos and the public-order brigades grew like Topsy, without much control," the senior U.S. military official said Thursday.
The official also said Americans had found at least two more Interior Ministry detention centers -- one in Baghdad and one in northern Iraq.
However, Wellman said Thursday that accounts of abuse at the centers and by the commandos and other special police units have been exaggerated. "There really is a concerted effort by the commandos and police units to focus on doing it right," he said.
Meanwhile, a dispute that emerged this week over who will command an Iraqi brigade slated to assume responsibility for sensitive sections of Baghdad remained unresolved. U.S. military officials in the capital favor Iraqi Col. Muhammed Wasif Taha, who has led the 5th Brigade of the Iraqi army's 6th Division since August. Iraq's Defense Ministry has not confirmed the appointment, saying it is under review.
The handover from U.S. to Iraqi control of an area including the perimeter of the fortified Green Zone and sections of the airport road was scheduled for Tuesday but has been postponed indefinitely.
"It shows the Iraqis are in control of their own process, which is what we have wanted all along," Wellman said.
Correspondent Jonathan Finer contributed to this report.