This week on War News Radio, we find out about the slow progress that has been made towards assembling Iraq’s security forces. Listen now to Wren Elhai’s report.
We hear from Iraqi journalist Ayub Nuri about what he found on his recent trip home. Listen now to Meghna Sachdev’s report.
In Iraq 101, we find out more about the history of de-Baathification. Listen now to Sam Barrows and Eugene Kim’s report.
And, in our series, A Day in the Life, we speak to Dr. Najib Sharifi, a doctor in Kabul. Listen now.
These stories, plus the weekâ€™s news, from War News Radio.
VARIOUS: From Swarthmore College, this is War News Radio.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: I’m Meghna Sachdev.
CYRUS STOLLER: And I’m Cyrus Stoller.
GREG GILBERTSON: If you wanted to be a commissioned officer you would pay the chief of police around 1500 dollars and he would give you an appointment if you met the basic qualifications.
CYRUS STOLLER: Ever since 2003, rebuilding a professional Iraqi police force has been an uphill battle. This week on War News Radio, Police in Training. We find out about the slow progress that has been made towards assembling Iraqi security forces.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: We’ll hear from Iraqi journalist Ayub Nuri about what he found on his recent trip home.
CYRUS STOLLER: In Iraq 101, we find out more about the history of de-Baathification.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: And in our series “A Day in the Life”, we speak to Dr. Najib Sharifi, a doctor in Kabul.
CYRUS STOLLER: But first, a roundup of this week’s war news.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: This week, President Bush submitted his final budget proposal, covering fiscal year 2009. For the first time ever, it tops the 3 trillion dollar mark. More than half a trillion dollars is earmarked for defense, but only $70 billion – less than 15% – of that money will go to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That figure, far lower than the predicted cost of the wars in 2009, is seen a â€œplaceholderâ€, which will have to be supplemented. Chairman of the Senate Budget committee Kent Conrad voiced his concern about the growing deficit.
KENT CONRAD: The result of all this is the gross debt of the United States is going up like a scalded cat. By 2009 we now anticipate the debt will be over ten trillion dollars.
CYRUS STOLLER: Meanwhile, Iraq’s budget for 2008 remains deadlocked in parliament. Votes on the 48 billion dollar budget, scheduled for February 7, were canceled due to ongoing disputes over how to divide funds among Iraq’s regions.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: The Bush administration is also taking heat for its handling of the case of a young Guantanamo detainee. Omar Khadr, a Canadian accused of killing a US medic in Afghanistan, is facing trial this week by the new Guantanamo military tribunals. Khadr was captured in Afghanistan by US Forces in 2002, when he was just 15. Military lawyers and human rights activists say he is too young to be tried as a war criminal, but the Justice Department insists the trial should proceed. Congress has not specified an age minimum for Guantanamo detainees. And secret government evidence, accidentally leaked to reporters, casts doubt on Khadr’s guilt. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
CYRUS STOLLER: Devastating twin explosions killed over a hundred in Baghdad pet markets last week, shattering the relative calm the city has recently enjoyed. It was the deadliest attack the capital has seen in months, raising fears of sectarian retaliation.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: But it’s crisis averted – for now at least. A spokesman of Shiâ€™a Cleric Moqtada al Sadr announced this week that the Mahdi army’s ongoing ceasefire will continue for the time being. Rumors to the contrary had been circulating, and the ceasefire is still set to expire later this month.
CYRUS STOLLER: Turkish warplanes launched another bombing raid in the mountainous region of northern Iraq early this week, as part of a continued effort to destabilize militant operations of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK. Turkey has been cracking down on the Kurdish separatist group, accused of carrying out cross-border attacks on Turkish soil. Shortly after the bombings, the Democratic Society party of Turkey, which supports the Kurdish cause, held a non-violent protest on the Turkey-Iraq border. They declared themselves human shields and denounced the Turkish raids. The US has supported Turkish air strikes in the region, as both the US and European Union regard the PKK as a terrorist organization.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: The Baghdad Central government struck a blow to Kurdish economic autonomy by canceling Kurdish oil deals for the first time. Officials in Kurdistan have been signing foreign oil contracts since September in defiance of the Iraqi parliament. The Iraqi oil minister halted oil exports between Kurdistan and two firms from Austria and South Korea, saying their deals were illegal. The Kurds are standing their ground, announcing they will continue to sign oil contracts with foreign companies. So far, the Iraqi parliament has failed to pass laws governing the distribution of oil revenue.
CYRUS STOLLER: A bill that was supposed to reverse some of the harsh de-Baathification policies that have been in place in Iraq since 2003 was signed into law this week – but some of Iraq’s Sunnis, originally in favor of the law, have been coming out against it. Emily Hager has more on the controversial new law.
EMILY HAGER: A bill that was originally intended to mark a point of reconciliation between Iraqi Sunnis and the Shi’a led government is now surrounded by controversy; some critics say that the law will actually hurt the Iraqis it was meant to help. The Accountability and Justice bill was passed by Parliament in mid-January, and signed into law this week – but both supporters and critics of the new law agree that the law’s murky wording leaves wide room for interpretation when itâ€™s actually implemented. American representatives early in the process were optimistic that the bill would allow many low ranking former Baathists to get their jobs back – or at least, to receive government pensions. But some of the bill’s other measures – designed to track down former Baathist criminals – may make Iraqis wary to come forward to receive those benefits. And under another portion of the bill, as many as 7000 former Baathist party members currently employed in the government and security forces could stand to lose their jobs. For War News Radio, I’m Emily Hager.
CYRUS STOLLER: We’ll have more on the history of de-Baathification later in the program.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: A farmer, his wife and their 19-year old son were shot to death when US soldiers raided their one-room house in the town of Adwar, south of Tikrit. Two young daughters were also wounded in the attack and one reportedly died from her injuries. Why did the soldiers start shooting? Reports are mixed. Iraqi police and neighbors say that the Americans entered with guns firing, killing the unarmed civilians in their beds. The US military said the soldiers were fired upon first, and that the dead father and son were suspected terrorists. This shooting came just two days after US forces accidentally killed 9 civilians in an air strike south of Baghdad.
CYRUS STOLLER: Taliban militants have unilaterally declared a truce with the Pakistani forces they had been fighting at the East Afghanistan border. While Pakistan has not officially agreed to the ceasefire, any truce would certainly upset the US government, which has been pushing Pakistani President Purvez Musharraf for harsh action against the Taliban. In fact, the US is currently helping Pakistan double their elite commando units to combat militants in the tribal areas. The State Department hopes they won’t see a repeat of Pakistan’s truce with militants in 2006, which many say let al Qaeda extend its reach into Pakistan and mobilize attacks across the border in Afghanistan. The Taliban group that declared the truce is led by Baitullah Mehsud, who has been accused of planning Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: This is War News Radio. Building a professional police force has been one of the keys to establishing security in Iraq since the fall of Saddam. But progress to that goal has been achieved only in fits and starts. Wren Elhai reports that ever since 2003, there have been disputes over basic questions– who to hire as policemen and how to train them.
WREN ELHAI: In May of 2003, just a month after the US defeated Saddam Hussein, Paul Bremer, the new head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, issued an order. The Iraqi army was to be disbanded. The security forces of the new Iraq would be built from scratch. But American planners took a different approach to the Iraqi police. Bremer directed them to return to work. The men who had enforced Saddamâ€™s laws would now provide security for a new governmentâ€”if they could be convinced to do their jobs.
AHMED KADHIM AL-BAYATI: Some people are afraid because Saddam is still in Baghdad. His 2 sons are still in Baghdad. They want to come one hour and return to their house, they donâ€™t want to continue.
WREN ELHAI: Ahmed Kadhim al-Bayati had served in the police before being jailed by Saddam in the 80s. He was given the job of rebuilding the Police Training Center in Baghdad. While Husseinâ€™s policemen would keep their jobs, theyâ€™d need to learn a new way of doing business.
AHMED KADHIM AL-BAYATI: How they work with human rights, how they work with women, how they respect the people when you want to arrest, when you want to search.
WREN ELHAI: Kadhim quickly became a brigadier general, closely involved in the planning for the new police force. He says his counterparts in the American and British ranks wanted lots of new police, fast. They wanted to show they were making progress. And they started recruiting lots of civilians into the force.
AHMED KADHIM AL-BAYATI: The people who were in Iraqi police before, we know those people. But the new, when they come, the problem begins.
WREN ELHAI: The problem was, the coalition officers were cutting corners. There were supposed to be rules about who could become a policeman. They were all supposed to undergo background checks before being accepted. Kadhim says it wasnâ€™t happening.
AHMED KADHIM AL-BAYATI: Like someone, he loose one eye, and he put on Iraqi police. That not work. Or someone, he lose one of his finger or one of his leg, or he is weak or he is ill, or he is not good, that not work, or someone very fat. That not work. Because, at that time I tell coalition forces, we not need number, we need good people.
WREN ELHAI: The Iraqis slowly took control over their own governmentâ€”and their own police force. But when Iraqis began to vet and select their police officers, that created new problems. Kadhim told me thatâ€™s when sectarian militias started entering the police force. The newly powerful Iraqi political parties sent groups of their supporters to get jobs as policemenâ€”and their loyalties were to those party leaders, not to Iraq. And a more basic problemâ€”briberyâ€”was widespread.
GREG GILBERTSON: You would basically receive your appointment from your local police chief. You would approach your local police chief.
WREN ELHAI: Greg Gilbertson directs the Criminal Justice program at Centralia College. He spent the year from May 2005 to June 2006 working for a private contracting firm doing police training in Iraq.
GREG GILBERTSON: You would be interviewed by the chief of police, and if you wanted to be a commissioned officer you would pay the chief of police around 1500 dollars and he would give you an appointment if you met the basic qualifications.
WREN ELHAI: For part of his year, Gilbertson supervised 12 American police trainers at a coalition training facility in Basra. He says new cadets had only one hurdle to jump before being accepted into the academy.
GREG GILBERTSON: When they would actually arrive at the academy, then they would have to take a basic literacy test, ok? And many of the recruits would fail the basic literacy test, especially the enlisted recruits, because they were simply illiterate. And they would be very confused as to why they were not admitted to the academy because they had already paid their money for admission.
WREN ELHAI: Problems with the Iraqi Police force have been well reported over the past few years. Some police officers have been involved in sectarian violence. Others have mistreated prisoners or abused their positions to collect bribes. Many of these problems seem to stem from how the police are recruited and selected. And thatâ€™s where recent efforts at improving the police force are focusing.
A major shift in strategy in 2007 saw the American army working with Sunni sheiks and their armed followers to fight insurgents and al Qaeda. That became the Anbar Awakening movement, that in turn grew into a whole strategy based around paying local groups to patrol their neighborhoods. In January, American Rear Admiral Gregory Smith described the growth of these forces.
GREGORY SMITH: Today, more than 130 Concerned Local Citizen groups are providing neighborhood security throughout Iraq, with over 80,000 active members, 80% of whom are Sunni, 20% Shiâ€™a, and many of these groups comprised of mixed Sunni and Shiâ€™a members.
WREN ELHAI: Now, procedures are in place for so-called Concerned Local Citizens to become official and join the Iraqi police. Last year, 15,000 Shiite militia members were also transferred into the official police ranks. But still, accepting Sunni and Shiâ€™a militiamen is sure to present a new set of challenges for the police. And Greg Gilbertson is doubtful that any strategy or any training program will yield a police force of the type Americans expect.
GREGORY GILBERTson: Here we come in, and say ok, hey guess what everythingâ€™s different, now we’re going to have this professional police force and weâ€™re going to change your culture. But let me tell you something, culture doesnâ€™t change in a couple of years and so all these people, weâ€™re coming in there and weâ€™re giving these lectures and these lessons about ethics and theyâ€™re all nodding their heads and saying yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, because they want to graduate. But are they actually changing their norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors? I seriously doubt it.
WREN ELHAI: Five years after the process of building the new Iraqi police began, Iraq has over 200,000 officers, but it is still in search of a reliable police force. For War News Radio, Iâ€™m Wren Elhai.
CYRUS STOLLER: This is War News Radio. Ayub Nuri, an Iraqi journalist who works with War News Radio, just returned from a trip to Iraq. Meghna Sachdev sat down with Ayub to find out more about the state of media in Northern Iraq, and the mood of Iraqis around the country.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: So youâ€™ve just returned from your trip to Iraq. How are things there?
AYUB NURI: I went to the north of Iraq where my family lives. The situation in northern Iraq that I could tell you about in terms of security is very secure, it is peaceful, and the rule of law really works in northern Iraq. But in reality this does not represent the situation in the whole of Iraq because the rest of Iraq is going through a very difficult time. Northern Iraq is secure because it is an autonomous region, and it is ruled by the Kurdistan regional government.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: What about the rest of Iraq? Has the security situation changed there at all?
AYUB NURI: In fact, I did not get a chance myself to go to the rest of Iraq although I wanted to go to Baghdad and other parts, but I did not have a lot of time. But I spoke with friends who live in Baghdad and Kirkuk and other parts of Iraq. They told me that the situation has changed dramatically, especially in Baghdad. Somebody told me in Baghdad that the situation has changed 80%. I remember that when you used to go to Baghdad at the gate of town you always had the fear, you were taken over by the fear that some militiamen might kidnap you or take money away from you or they kill you or at least release you for a very high ransom. But now he said you do not see those militiamen anymore, you do not see those checkpoints like before, and the situation is much better.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: Who would you give credit to for improving the situation? Do you think itâ€™s just that people got tired or has there actually been some positive action thatâ€™s dramatically improved the situation?
AYUB NURI: Improvement of the situation has to do with a number of reasons. The Americans say that the situation improved because of their troop surge, the extra number of troops that they sent to Baghdad last year, but I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the reason. Maybe it is the reason to some degree, in some specific neighborhoods in Baghdad where the American troops are. The other reason is that there is this Tribal Awakening Council. I believe, this is my own opinion, that many of those people who used to be insurgents themselves have now joined these Awakening Council forces and they get paid by the Americans or they get paid by their tribal leader, at the same time they carry their guns, they carry their weapons. Instead of pointing their guns at Americans they are now pointing their guns at insurgents. I think thatâ€™s the reason, and fatigue also has something to do with it. Maybe the insurgent groups or different groups in Iraq fell apart because of internal disputes among its members or maybe they are just exhausted and have had enough of anything. So for whatever reason it is, the situation is better than last year.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: Do you think it will continue, or is it just hard to say?
AYUB NURI: The Iraqi government as well, the Iraqi police, and the Iraqi army at the same time have to take advantage of this improvement to really restore the rule of law and provide public services to Iraqi people and see what Iraqis need, because in the past few years the Iraqi government or the Americans did not do a lot of construction because they always blamed the lack of construction on the lack of security in Iraq. Now these days as we see the security to some extent has improved. They have to take advantage of that and see what do people need to improve those things, so that the security and construction and rule of law and everything else go hand in hand in Iraq, otherwise the situation is still fragile and they have to really address peopleâ€™s needs.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: Did you get a sense of what peopleâ€™s needs were when you were there? I mean, how are the Iraqi people feeling now?
AYUB NURI: In the past four years the situation was so bad if you asked any Iraqi what he or she wanted, the answer would be â€œsecurity and safetyâ€. Ok if this is what they can get now. At the moment they donâ€™t have many dreams, but in fact there are needs and water, drinking water, clean water, services in different hospitals. I spoke with people who said that hospitals need equipment, they need medicine.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: There have been some reports of press, especially in northern Iraq, having a hard time reporting. Do you have any take on the situation with the media in Iraq?
AYUB NURI: About the north of Iraq, I can say, journalists have had a hard time recently especially because the Kurdish government there was about to pass a new law about journalism and freedom of press that made it very clear that journalists will be punished if they write something against the Kurdish government or if they write something that affects the national security, or even there was a specific article that said journalists will be punished if they translate and publish an article written by a foreign journalist. And thatâ€™s what happened recently. Michael Rubin, an American journalist, wrote a detailed report about the situation in northern Iraq, about widespread corruption in the region and how the Kurdish leaders, Talabani and Barzani, were behind much of the corruption and how they controlled everything. And so the major newspaper in Kurdistan is called Hawalti, the Kurdish newspaper, they translated this article and they published the article. Then the Iraqi president Talabani filed a lawsuit against the newspaper and I heard yesterday, my friends called me form the north of Iraq, that the court called on the editor-in-chief of the Hawalti newspaper to go to the court and they let him go, but they fined him one million Iraqi dinars that he should never publish such articles again in the future.
CYRUS STOLLER: Ayub Nuri, an Iraqi journalist who works with War News Radio.
CYRUS STOLLER: This is War News Radio. In the wake of Iraq’s controversial new Accountability and Justice Law, which was intended to fix some of the harshest measures enacted under the Coalition Provisional Authority – including de-Baathification – we decided to look back at the history of de-Baathification in Iraq. Sam Barrows and Eugene Kim prepared this report.
EUGENE KIM: After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority began the task of rebuilding the Iraqi government from the ground up. The first step taken in this process was â€œde-Baathification,â€ or the removal of Baath party officials from the Iraqi government. Although this purging was intended to create a new administration with no ties to Saddam Hussein, it quickly became apparent that de-Baathification had damaged the government, and the country.
Most affected were those in the top four tiers of the Baath party. They were forbidden from holding government positions, lost their state pensions, and faced investigation for â€œcriminal conduct.â€ Some lower-ranking party members were also subject to the de-Baathification order. All Baathists who held senior positions at Iraqâ€™s schools, universities, hospitals, and state-owned corporations lost their jobs. Itâ€™s estimated that the de-Baathification order left as many as 85,000 professionals and officials jobless.
Many of these Iraqis had joined the Baath party for non-political reasons â€“ some in order to advance their careers, others because it was mandatory. These trained professionals found themselves without work and were angry at being lumped in with the worst of Saddamâ€™s lieutenants. Also, the purge left Iraq without thousands of experienced administrators and employees, creating problems for the new government.
In 2004, Bremer announced a partial reversal of de-Baathification, admitting that the process had been applied â€œunevenly and unjustly.â€ Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi led the push to reintegrate some former party members, and placed many ex-Baathist police and military officers in new security roles. Also, this loosening of restrictions allowed thousands of lower ranking Baathists to reclaim their jobs after being cleared by a de-Baathification commission. But not everyone in Iraq was in favor of relaxing the rules. Many Iraqi Shiâ€™a opposed the return of former Baathists to their positions, and feared they would attempt to revive the Baath party.
This sectarian power struggle lives on today. The new Accountability and Justice act recently passed by Parliament seems to be a victory for some former Baathists who can return to work and reclaim their pensions. Radical Shiâ€™a leaders were opposed to the initial draft of the measure, fearing a takeover from the former Baathists. But theyâ€™re oddly supportive of the billâ€™s final version, raising suspicions that it will do little to reintegrate ex-party members or bring an end to the de-Baathification saga.
For War News Radio, Iâ€™m Eugene Kim.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: This is War News Radio. This week, in our series a Day in the Life, Cyrus Stoller spoke to Dr. Najib Sharifi, a doctor in Afghanistan. He tells us about his work and about how the international community seems to have forgotten about Afghanistan.
NAJIB SHARIFI: Iâ€™m a general internal doctor, general practitioner. I work in the internal disease ward of this hospital called Ali-abed University hospital. Itâ€™s worth mentioning that this hospital is the most famous hospital in Kabul. Itâ€™s a university hospital, and when we compare the beds that we have to the popularity that this hospital has, we donâ€™t have enough beds for the patients. It is much better in terms of practicing medicine in a hospital when compared to Taliban times. But still we have problems here with lack of modern training. We are thankful to international communities for their assistance â€“ for example in the hospital that I am working, last year they donated an echocardiography machine and that has helped us a lot in terms of diagnosis and follow up of the patients.
The critical diseases that we see in the hospital, tuberculosis â€“ this is a huge problem in Afghanistan to many people who are living in the countryside. Weâ€™ve got cardiovascular patients, weâ€™ve got lots of them coming to the hospital and this is because of the economic situation of the people and also because of lack of awareness of these diseases. And we also have a big problem with the gastrointestinal diseases, especially with cancers of the gastrointestinal system and Iâ€™ve been planning to do research on this because weâ€™ve got lots of incidents of esophageal cancer.
There is one thing I need to add, we have had some improvements with regards with providing people with health services and facilities, but it’s still a big problem in our country, especially the lack of having some doctors in the facilities for example. We don’t have any radiotherapy center in Afghanistan for treating cancer patients or we donâ€™t have any hematology department here in Afghanistan, so what patients have to do is that they have to go to Pakistan or India and spend all their life savings to get treatment there. And at the same time the expectation of the people is really high from the international community. I know theyâ€™re doing some inter-structural work where they want to rebuild demolished structures in Afghanistan, but given the fact that a majority of people is illiterate here, they cannot see that. What they need to do to build trust is to do something tangible and one of these easiest ways to satisfy people, to change the mentality of people towards the international community, is to provide them with better health services is to have a hematology center in Afghanistan, or at least to have radiotherapy center here in Afghanistan. And Iâ€™ve been mentioning this fact to my international friends all the time and at the same time Iâ€™ve been trying to get some kind of scholarship to get some training in these two fields, hematology or oncology or radiation oncology, but it seems the international community is not paying much attention on this huge and acute problem which is very vital for the people and which is very vital for changing the mentalities and minds of people towards the international community. I mean the international community needs to focus more on improving the health system and health services in Afghanistan.
CYRUS STOLLER: That’s our show for this week.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: War News Radio is a production of Swarthmore College.
CYRUS STOLLER: Visit us online to listen to archived shows, learn more about the program, or subscribe to our pod cast. That’s at warnewsradio.org.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: Our behind-the-scenes crew includes: Eric Chiang, Emmane Desjardins, Meredith Firetog, Jess Engebretson, Eugene Kim,
CYRUS STOLLER: Clare Kobasa, Kevin Kim, Ben Mendel, Marge Murphy, Ayub Nuri, Aaron Schwartz, Sonny Sidhu, Elizabeth Threlkeld, and Hansi Lo Wang. I’m Cyrus Stoller.
MEGHNA SACHDEV: And I’m Meghna Sachdev. Until next time, thanks for listening.