Tribe, Family Take Priority over the Law; Complicate Coalition's Gradual Transfer of Police Power to Iraqis

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 27, 2005 | Go to article overview

Tribe, Family Take Priority over the Law; Complicate Coalition's Gradual Transfer of Police Power to Iraqis


Byline: David Axe, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SAMAWAH, Iraq - Tribal loyalties and blood feuds are complicating efforts by coalition trainers to bring the police in southern Iraq to Western standards of performance and accountability.

"Under the old regime, everyone deferred to the next level up," says Chris Sparks, 50, a British police officer and a trainer at a police academy in the city of Samawah in Muthanna province. "We're trying to empower people to take responsibility."

Mr. Sparks, of Sussex, England, is one of more than 100 police officers from coalition countries employed by Armour Group, a company with a contract from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to train Iraqi police in Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna provinces. Armour Group has trained more than 2,000 Iraqi police officers since its first course here in July 2004.

British officers and police trainers say the traditional top-down model of leadership in the Iraqi police sometimes runs headlong into tribal and family loyalties. This spring, Mr. Sparks says, a former senior member of Iyad Allawi's interim government pulled strings to hire 300 unemployed men, many from his own tribe, into the Samawah police force, despite academy dean Col. Fadhil Othman's decision to suspend recruitment in the city. There are about 1,700 police in this city of half a million.

Mr. Othman, 50, a 25-year police veteran, says that half of the new recruits are illiterate. The problem, he says, is that on May 17, national police authorities in Baghdad began requiring all recruits to attend training in Jordan, and literacy is one of the prerequisites of the training.

Mr. Othman and Mr. Sparks say they're trying to figure out what to do with the recruits. They ran a crash, six-week basic-training course with the goal of sending those who are literate to Jordan. They say they might transfer the rest to a special facilities guard service that does not require literacy.

In the meantime, until they are transferred or attend the courses in Jordan, none of the 300 recruits is drawing pay. Several police officers on patrol with the British army in Samawah in May complained that they haven't been paid in two months.

"It's bad news, really," Mr. Sparks says.

"The police do have tribal influence put on them," says Arnie Morgan, 51, one of 23 Armour Group trainers at Camp Abu Naji in Muthanna province. "We're trying to make these people accountable to the law, firstly."

But one Samawah police captain says his officers are doing their best to uphold the law in a society that values tribe and family over law.

"Men use their tribes to protect them," says Capt. …

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Tribe, Family Take Priority over the Law; Complicate Coalition's Gradual Transfer of Police Power to Iraqis
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