By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006
U.S. military commanders in Iraq are attempting to get under control the Facilities Protection Service, whose 150,000 members are paid to guard the 26 Iraqi ministries and serve as personal security to ministers and important government officials, but also provide manpower for sectarian party militias and death squads.
The Iraq Study Group highlighted the problem earlier this month, describing members of the FPS, an Iraqi force, as having "questionable loyalties and capabilities," and quoting an unnamed senior U.S. official saying they are "incompetent, dysfunctional and subversive."
Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr controls the ministries of health, transportation and agriculture, and FPS units employed by those ministries are "a source of funding and jobs for the Mahdi Army," his militia, according to the study group report.
The latest Defense Department report on Iraq said there is "anecdotal evidence" that FPS personnel "are unreliable and in some cases responsible for violent crimes and other illegal activities." It also described a survey done at the Central Bank of Iraq, which found that of the bank's 1,800 FPS guards, "800 failed to show for work, suggesting that they were either ghost employees or otherwise unfit for such employment."
In August, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that a majority of the FPS units would be consolidated and put on the payroll of the Interior Ministry, and would become accountable to that ministry. The process now is being handled by eight reviewing committees, according to the Defense Department report.
Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq, told reporters that he will be working with Iraq's interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, next year to get the FPS under the minister's control.
In October, speaking to a small group of reporters in Baghdad, Bolani blamed the FPS for much of the violence then surging in that city. "Whenever we capture someone, we rarely find anyone is an employee of the government ministries," Bolani said. "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," he said.
In April, Bolani's predecessor as interior minister, Bayan Jabr, told Newsweek that one FPS member had been "involved in sectarian killings, explosions and mortar attacks" and that "tens" of them had been arrested by U.S. forces for killing "over 100 persons" in a Baghdad neighborhood. A U.S. official in Baghdad told Newsweek: "The FPS has basically become a private army for the ministers. They have no accountability."
Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general of the Iraq Assistance Group, told reporters Dec. 17: "The minister of interior has got to eventually deal with or wrestle with the Facilities Protection Service. I mean, it's got over 150,000 armed individuals that must be brought under a certain amount of control. And I think over time you'll see the minister of interior working on that."
The FPS was established April 10, 2003, by L. Paul Bremer, then coordinator of the Coalition Provisional Authority. That was the day after Baghdad fell, and looting had begun. FPS units were to provide security for ministry and government buildings and be under the control of the individual ministers.
Their personnel initially were to come from ministry employees or contracted private security firms, in numbers determined by the ministries, and paid out of Iraq government funds. As the ministries were eventually divided up among the various sectarian parties and coalitions, the FPS units began to be filled with members of militias associated with the minister's party or friends and relatives of the ministers.
Under Bremer's order, the units had authority to make arrests and use force when necessary, but only "while performing official duties." The order allowed them to take up different names such as "Electricity Police" or "Oil Police," and some did.
Unlike with almost all other Iraqi security units, there has been little direct U.S. or coalition follow-up with FPS units once they get their brief training. "There's no transition teams in the FPS, but with units where there are embedded advisers and transition teams, you don't see that happening," Pittard said last week, referring to civilian killings.
The previous hands-off attitude was reflected in testimony Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus gave the House Armed Services Committee in June 2004. At that time, the FPS numbered about 70,000, he told the legislators, and the personnel were getting initial training from U.S. brigade commanders before going to ministries. "The corporate headquarters for these ministry activities have hired these guards . . . and although the ministry paid the salaries, we need these brigade commanders to just be constantly going around their location all day every day . . . ensuring standards are in force, and ensuring there is adequate force protection and so forth."
Over time, however, it became more difficult for the U.S. military to review what FPS personnel were doing because the Iraqi ministries were paying their salaries. "We tried at various times to get the government to authorize the MOI [Ministry of the Interior] to regain supervision of the various elements," said a senior Pentagon official who was there at the time. That did not work, he said, because the Iraqi government kept changing and "many of the ministers wanted to hire their own security."