By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 14, 2006
BAGHDAD, Oct. 13 -- Iraq's interior minister on Friday rejected allegations that Iraq's police and military have played a major role in the death squads blamed for Baghdad's surging violence, saying that only a small number of all those caught in U.S. or Iraqi raids were members of the police or army.
Jawad al-Bolani, speaking to a small group of reporters in Baghdad, blamed the Facilities Protection Service, or FPS, a massive but unregulated government guard force whose numbers he put at about 150,000.
"Whenever we capture someone, we rarely find anyone is an employee of the government ministries," Bolani said. When they are, "they've turned out to be mostly from the FPS, with very few individual, actual incidents involving anyone from the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense."
Since midsummer, Shiite-Sunni violence has escalated in Baghdad, with the Health Ministry last month reporting that the number of monthly killings here had roughly doubled since spring, to 2,600. Most of the victims had been shot and their bodies dumped in the streets, often handcuffed, blindfolded and showing signs of torture.
Many victims are Sunni Arabs. Sunnis and some U.S. officials charge that Shiite Muslim militias, sometimes operating inside the mainly Shiite police forces, are responsible for much of the killing. Victims of Baghdad's violence are often taken away by men in police uniforms, and sometimes in police vehicles, and later found dead.
Bolani and his predecessor as interior minister, Bayan Jabr, both have minimized the possibility of any police involvement in the nightly killings. "We are experiencing a problem of impressions" regarding a police role in killings and militia infiltration of police, Bolani said Friday.
American generals were among the first to publicly express suspicion that the Facilities Protection Service was playing a key role in the growing sectarian killings. U.S. commanders themselves started the agency soon after the 2003 U.S-led invasion, intending it to be a force of a few thousand men who would guard buildings against looting.
The service today has grown to a size rivaling that of the U.S. force in Iraq, although control of the service's men is split among the various ministries they are nominally assigned to guard. Most wear uniforms similar or identical to those of the police.
Bolani also said bodyguard units assigned to unspecified officials were carrying out some of the killings.
Bolani, like Jabr, has repeatedly suggested that killings by gunmen in police uniforms were being carried out by impostors. On Friday, he repeated promises made since early this year that police would soon be issued uniforms and vehicles that would be difficult to duplicate.
Bolani also said police forces are trying to reform themselves, such as by retraining men and requiring loyalty oaths. He said major changes were needed at the command level of the Interior Ministry itself and that he had the backing of the government to make them.
Iraq's government, led by the Shiite religious parties that also lead the militias, has shown little willingness to confront them.
Interior Ministry officials were serious about purging "corrupt elements" and had fired about 3,000 employees for that reason, Bolani said. Aides said 1,228 of those employees had been subjected to administrative punishment, and Bolani said 10 to 20 percent of the 3,000 had been referred for possible prosecution. He declined to immediately give examples of infractions or name those punished.
Bolani, an independent allied to the coalition of governing Shiite religious parties, also said three of the country's biggest militias -- those of the country's two main Kurdish parties and that of a leading Shiite religious party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- were among those that had been lawfully integrated into the country's security forces.
He said that a fourth major militia, the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, along with Sunni insurgent groups, were "outside the political body and structure."
"We do not approve of the existence of these militias,'' Bolani said of the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgents.