BAGHDAD, Iraq – Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq’s police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes and assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi government documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations.
A recent assessment by U.S. State Department police-training contractors underscores the investigative documents, concluding that strong paramilitary and insurgent influences within the force and endemic corruption have undermined public confidence in the government.
Officers have also beaten prisoners to death, been involved in kidnapping rings, sold thousands of stolen and forged Iraqi passports and passed along vital information to insurgents, the Iraqi documents allege.
The documents, which cover most of 2005 and part of 2006, were obtained by the Los Angeles Times and authenticated by current and former police officials. The alleged offenses span dozens of police units and hundreds of officers including beat cops, generals and police chiefs. Officers were punished in some instances, but the vast majority of cases are either under investigation or were dropped because of lack of evidence or witness testimony.
The investigation documents are the latest in a string of disturbing revelations of abuse and corruption by Iraq’s Interior Ministry, a Cabinet-level agency that employs 268,610 police, immigration, facilities security and dignitary protection officers.
After the discovery last November of a secret Interior Ministry detention facility in Baghdad operated by police intelligence officials affiliated with a Shiite Muslim militia, U.S. officials declared 2006 “the year of the police.” They vowed a renewed effort to expand and professionalize Iraq’s civilian officer corps.
President Bush has said that the training of a competent Iraqi police force is linked to the timing of an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops and a key element in the war in Iraq.
But U.S. officials say the renegade force in the ministry’s intelligence service that ran the bunker in Baghdad’s Jadiriya neighborhood continues to operate out of the Interior Ministry building’s seventh floor. A senior U.S. military official in Iraq, who was interviewed last month on condition of anonymity, confirmed that one of the leaders of the renegade group, Mahmoud al-Waeli, is the “minister of intelligence for the Badr Corps” Shiite militia and a main recruiter of paramilitary elements for interior police forces.
“We’re gradually working the process to take them out of the equation,” the military official said. “We developed the information. We also developed a prosecutorial case.”
Bayan Jabr, a prominent Shiite, was interior minister at the time of the investigations detailed in the documents and has been accused of allowing Shiite paramilitary fighters to run rampant in the security forces under his watch.
U.S. officials interviewed for this article said the ability of Jabr’s replacement, Jawad Bolani, to deal with the pervasive corruption and militia influence in the police will be a crucial test of his leadership.
The challenges facing Bolani, a Shiite engineer who has no policing experience and entered politics for the first time after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, are highlighted in a recent assessment by police trainers hired by the State Department. According to the report, corruption in the Interior Ministry has hampered its effectiveness and its credibility with Iraqis.
“Despite great progress and genuine commitment on the part of many ministry officials, the current climate of corruption, human rights violations and sectarian violence found in Iraq’s security forces undermines public confidence,” according to the document, titled “Year of the Police In-Stride Assessment, October 2005 to May 2006.”
“Elements of the MOI (Ministry of the Interior) have been co-opted by insurgents, terrorists and sectarian militias. Payroll fraud, other kinds of corruption and intimidation campaigns by insurgent and militia organizations undermine police effectiveness in key cities throughout Iraq,” the report says.
The report increased tensions between the Pentagon, which runs the police training program, and the State Department, which has been pushing to expand its limited training role in Iraq, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The report strikes contradictory tones, saying that the Interior Ministry continues to improve and that its forces are on track to take over civil security from U.S. and Iraqi military elements by the end of the year, while outlining shocking problems with corruption and abuse.
Interior officials have taken steps to “improve detainee life,” the report said. “However, there are elements within the MOI which continue to abuse detainees.”
“MOI officials and forces are widely reported to engage in bribery, extortion and theft,” the report continues. “For example, there are numerous credible reports of ministry and police officials requiring payment from would-be recruits to join the police.”
The report’s findings are borne out in hundreds of pages of internal investigative documents.
The documents include worksheets with hundreds of short summaries of alleged crimes by police, letters referring accused officers to Iraq’s anti-corruption agencies and courts, citizen complaints of police abuse and corruption, police inspector general summaries detailing financial crimes and fraudulent contracting practices and reports on alleged sympathizers of Saddam Hussein’s former regime.
In crisp bureaucratic Arabic, the documents detail a police force in which abuse and death at the hands of policemen is frighteningly common.
Police officers’ loyalties appear to be a major problem, with dozens of accounts of insurgent infiltration and terrorist acts committed by ministry officials.
In one case, a ring of Baghdad police officers – including a colonel, two lieutenants and a captain – were accused of stealing communications equipment for insurgents, who used the electronics for remote bomb triggers. In another case, a medic with the Interior Ministry’s elite commando force in Baghdad was fired after he was accused of planting improvised explosives and conducting assassinations.
Police officers have also allegedly organized kidnapping rings that abduct civilians for ransom – in some of the cases, the victims are police officers. Two Baghdad police commanders kidnapped a lieutenant colonel, stole his ministry car and demanded tens of thousands of dollars from the victim’s family, the documents allege. In that case, the two accused, Maj. Gen. Naief Abdul Ezaq and Capt. Methaq Sebah Mahmoud, were fired and taken to court.
Abuse by police is also a common theme in the documents. The victims include citizens who tried to complain about police misbehavior, drivers who disobeyed traffic police commands and, in several cases, other police officers.
But detainees appear to be targeted most often. The U.S. military has been working with the Iraqi government to standardize detention facilities and policies, and the U.S. assessment claimed that several site visits turned up no serious human rights abuses. But the ministry documents reveal a brutal detention system in which officers run hidden jails, and torture and detainee deaths are common.
The documents mention four investigations into the deaths of 15 prisoners killed by police commando units.
Female detainees are often sexually assaulted. In August, the commander of a detention center in the Karkh neighborhood of the capital raped a woman who was an alleged insurgent. Also in August, two lieutenants tortured and raped two other detained women.
U.S. officials say they have known about Interior Ministry abuses for years but have done little to thwart them, choosing instead to push Iraqi leaders to solve their own problems.