Iraq Nears Consolidation of Paramilitary Units

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 11, 2006; 10:54 AM

BAGHDAD, May 11 -- Negotiations are under way to bring a major Iraqi government paramilitary unit under clear control of the Interior Ministry, in line with an earlier announced reorganization aimed at putting all national police forces under a single commander, a top Interior Ministry official said Thursday.

The change is one of a series of steps started in March to rein in the disparate units -- commandos, public-order brigades and others -- in Iraq's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry forces. Sunni Arab community leaders have charged that ministry forces were abducting, torturing and killing Sunni men.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr acknowledged last month that death squads were operating within the ministry. Jabr has maintained that a comparative few ministry renegades or impostors in police uniforms were carrying out many of the crimes.

Ministry officials last month announced the renaming of all federal police units under the umbrella designation of the National Police.

Establishment of a single, standardized uniform for the police, originally scheduled to debut in May, has been pushed back to June, Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Mahdi Sabih al-Gharrawi told reporters at a Baghdad news conference Saturday.

The color of national police vehicles -- now blue and white, or white with blue seals -- also would be changed and standardized, Sabih told reporters.

Interior Ministry officials said a single commander over all the national forces would be chosen by the next government.

One paramilitary unit, the Facilities Protection Service, has been a hitch in the plans, however. Originally started as a simple guard service for government installations, the FPS has grown into a sprawling paramilitary unit with no single mission or commander. Newsweek magazine reported last month that the unit has expanded to as many as 146,000 members.

One obstacle to bringing the FPS under control is the fact that its members often work in close liaison with the many private security companies in Iraq, and they are better paid than many other Iraqi national police, Interior Ministry officials said.

A proposal under discussion would bring the FPS under control of the same single commander with other Interior Ministry national forces, but with a slightly different uniform, said Gen. Raad al-Tamimi, an official in the operations directorate in the Interior Ministry.

In talks with private security companies and the Interior Ministry on Saturday, both sides agreed that the Interior Ministry in the meantime would issue all the FPS forces in Baghdad badges and special signs for their vehicles and would supervise the kinds of weapons they could carry, Tamimi said.

Private security companies are involved in the talks on behalf of the FPS because the firms often pay the salaries of FPS paramilitary personnel, ministry officials said.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company