U.S. Plan for Iraqi Force Surprises Senator

President Bush conferred with Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus after the Senate confirmed the general's appointment as top U.S. commander in Iraq.
President Bush conferred with Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus after the Senate confirmed the general's appointment as top U.S. commander in Iraq. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 27, 2007

Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress that he might supplement efforts to secure Baghdad using the Iraqi Facilities Protection Service, a 150,000-man force that guards Iraqi government agencies. But that service is widely considered unreliable, and elements were described in July by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as "more dangerous than the militias," according to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

"The prime minister said he wanted to get rid of the FPS as fast as possible," Reed said this week, recalling his meeting with Maliki in Baghdad last summer. There are "bad elements" in FPS units that "are carrying out murders and kidnappings . . . [and] attacking the infrastructure that they are supposedly protecting," Reed said in his trip report about what Maliki had told him. "Because of the FPS," Reed wrote, Maliki said that "some governmental ministries' guards are more dangerous than the militias."

The FPS was formed in 2003 by order of L. Paul Bremer, then administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, to protect the 27 Iraqi ministries and their facilities throughout Iraq. Each minister, who generally represents one of Iraq's political parties, has his or her own FPS unit, whose armed members wear military uniforms.

The Iraq Study Group described FPS members as having "questionable loyalties and capabilities." It quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official as saying that they are "incompetent, dysfunctional and subversive," with some serving the manpower needs of sectarian party militias and death squads.

Reed said in an interview that, with security being the main concern of President Bush in pressing for additional U.S. troops in Baghdad, he was "surprised" that Petraeus would describe FPS units, also known as ministerial security forces, as assisting in the protection of the city. The Senate confirmed Petraeus yesterday as the new top U.S. commander in Iraq.

"There are tens of thousands of contract security forces and ministerial security forces that do, in fact, guard facilities and secure institutions, and so forth," Petraeus said in testimony earlier this week, "that our forces -- coalition or Iraqi forces -- would otherwise have to guard and secure."

When Reed responded that he was "shocked" that the FPS was mentioned in those terms -- because Maliki had told him "that some of these ministerial forces are worse than the insurgents" -- Petraeus replied: "Some, indeed." Later, in answer to a question, the Army general acknowledged that "some of those ministerial forces are part of the problem instead of part of the solution."

Maliki was not the only official who spoke to Reed in July regarding concerns about the FPS. Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, described the FPS members, along with about 8,700 personal security guards provided to Iraqi political figures, as among "the proliferation of armed groups . . . [presenting] a serious challenge to stability." Dempsey said the Iraqi Defense Ministry paid the salaries of the personal security details "but has no control over them." Each of the 275 members of Iraq's Council of Representatives, as its national assembly is called, is entitled to 20 guards, many of whom are chosen from within their families.

Dempsey was particularly critical of the FPS, saying: "They have a reputation for gross misconduct." He specified as "particularly notorious" the FPS units associated with the ministries of transportation and health, both under the control of associates of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The FPS units employed by those ministries are "a source of funding and jobs for the Mahdi Army," Sadr's militia, according to the Iraq Study Group report.

Dempsey told Reed last summer that the FPS and the personal security details "should be reformed" and "outfitted with different uniforms to distinguish them from the police and clearly identify them." More recently, Dempsey told reporters that the FPS should be brought under the control of Iraq's Interior Ministry this year.

In Basra, Reed was told by Maj. Gen. John Cooper, commander of the British troops in that area, that the FPS was "a major problem." In Fallujah, members of the Marine Expeditionary Force said that when they retook the hospital in Ramadi, local leaders insisted "that the FPS be barred from returning because of their corruption and unreliability."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), upon returning from a brief trip to Iraq this month, announced that she will introduce legislation that would require -- as a condition of continued funding -- certification that the FPS and the private security contractors for the Iraqis are free of sectarian and militia influence.

"Instead of cutting funding to American troops, cut the funding to the Iraqi forces and to the security forces . . . that we pay for to protect the members of this government," Clinton said last week on the PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." "We have to do something to get their attention in order to force them to deal with the political and the economic and the diplomatic pieces of the puzzle that confront us," she added.

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