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Profile: Iraqi Ministry of the Interior
Iraqi Ministry of the Interior was a participant or observer in the following events:
Saddam Hussein’s Interior Ministry issues directive No. 2884, which orders the detainment of some 5,000 people—mostly Kurds of Iranian background—between the ages of 18 and 28. These people will never be seen again (see Late Summer 1980). [Independent, 12/13/2002]
The Justice Department decides that Iraq needs around 6,600 foreign advisers to rehabilitate and rebuild its police forces. The White House sends one person: former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik. [Washington Post, 9/17/2006] In film shot for a 2007 documentary, No End in Sight, Kerik will recall: “First week May I was contacted by the White House… would I meet with Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld… to discuss policing policies in Iraq.… [W]e discussed basically the Ministry of the Interior and reconstitution of the Interior, what the Interior consisted of, what the prior offices were, estimated number of police, and border controls. Some information they had, some they didn’t.” Reporter Michael Moss will continue in the footage (which is cut from the final version of the documentary): “They saw in Bernie a quick fix.… [H]e had 10 days to prepare… hadn’t been to Iraq; knew little about it; and in part, prepared for the job by watching A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein.” [New York Post, 12/14/2007]
9/11 Star - Kerik is considered a star. Made famous by his efforts in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001), he is asked for his autograph by soldiers and constantly pressed for interviews by reporters. President Bush considers Kerik the perfect man to take over Iraq’s Interior Ministry and rebuild the shattered Iraqi police forces. His previous experience in the Middle East is dubious—as security director for a government hospital in Saudi Arabia, he had been expelled as part of an investigation into his surveillance of the medical staff.
Others Too Liberal - He also lacks any experience in postwar policing, but White House officials view this as an asset. The veterans the White House is familiar with lack the committment to establishing a democracy in Iraq, they feel. Those with experience—post-conflict experts with the State Department, the United Nations, or non-governmental organizations—are viewed as too liberal. Kerik is a solidly conservative Republican with an unwavering loyalty to the Bush administration and a loud advocate of democracy in Iraq. Author Rajiv Chandrasekaran will later write: “With Kerik, there were bonuses: The media loved him, and the American public trusted him.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2006]
White House 'Eyes and Ears' - Kerik will quickly make clear one of his top priorities as Iraq’s new police chief: according to one subordinate, he will frequently remind his underlings that he is the Bush administration’s “eyes and ears” in Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 11/9/2007]
Bernard Kerik in the Green Zone, July 2003. [Source: Associated Press / Dario Lopez-Mills]Former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, the newly appointed head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry and the man chosen to rebuild Iraq’s police forces (see Early May, 2003), does not make a strong impression on the State Department’s Robert Gifford, a senior adviser to the Interior Ministry and an expert on international law enforcement. Kerik is in Iraq to take over Gifford’s job. He tells Gifford that his main function is to “bring more media attention to the good work on police,” and he doubts “the situation is… as bad as people think it is.” When Gifford briefs Kerik, he quickly realizes that Kerik isn’t listening. “He didn’t listen to anything,” Gifford will later recall. “He hadn’t read anything except his e-mails. I don’t think he read a single one of our proposals.” Kerik is not in Baghdad to do the heavy lifting of leading the rebuilding. He intends to leave that to Gifford. Kerik will brief American officials and reporters. And, he says, he will go out on some law enforcement missions himself. Kerik garners much network air time by telling reporters that he has assessed the situation in Iraq and it is improving. Security in Baghdad, he says, “is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes.” He tells a Time reporter that “people are starting to feel more confident. They’re coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened.” Kerik parades around the Green Zone with a team of South African mercenaries as his personal bodyguard force, and packs a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.
Ignoring Basic Processes - The first few months after the overthrow of the Hussein government are a critical time. Police officers need to be called back to work and screened for Ba’ath Party connections. They must be retrained in due process, in legal (non-torture) interrogation procedures, and other basic law enforcement procedures. New police chiefs need to be selected. Tens of thousands of new police officers must be hired and trained. But Kerik has no interest in any of this. He only holds two staff meetings, and one of these is a show for a New York Times reporter. Kerik secures no funding for police advisers. He leaves the chores of organizing and training Iraqi police officers to US military policemen, most of whom have no training in civilian law enforcement. Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission, will later say: “He was the wrong guy at the wrong time. Bernie didn’t have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person.… Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality.”
Night Adventures - What Kerik does do is organize a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to chase down and kill off members of the black market criminal syndicates that have sprung up after the invasion. He often joins the group on nighttime raids, leaving the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, appearing at CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer’s morning staff meetings to regale his audience with tales of the night’s adventures. Kerik’s hit squad does put a few car-theft and kidnapping gangs out of business, and Kerik makes sure to get plenty of press coverage for these successes. But he leaves the daily work of rebuilding the Iraqi police to others: he sleeps during the day so he can go out at night. Many members of the Interior Ministry become increasingly distressed at Kerik’s antics and his systematic ignorance of his duties, but realize that they can do nothing. “Bremer’s staff thought he was the silver bullet,” a member of the Justice Department assessment mission will later say. “Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11.” When Kerik leaves three months later, virtually nothing has been done to rebuild Iraq’s police forces. (Kerik will blame others for the failures, saying he was given insufficient funds to hire police advisers or to establish large-scale training programs.) He will later recall his service in Baghdad: “I was in my own world. I did my own thing.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2006]
'Irresponsible' - In 2007, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will say that Kerik was “irresponsible” in his tenure as head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry (see November 9, 2007). “Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force,” McCain will say. “He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2007]
The Iraqi government informs the US Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s main security company. In effect, the decision forces Blackwater to cease operations within Iraq. Many Blackwater employees are accused of using excessive force while protecting US diplomats and State Department personnel. Those Blackwater employees not accused of improper conduct may continue working as private security contractors in Iraq, as long as they quit Blackwater and begin working for other firms. Blackwater must leave Iraq as soon as a joint US-Iraqi committee finalizes guidelines for the conduct and liability of private contractors under the new security agreement between the two countries. Under earlier agreements, Blackwater and other US contractors have been entirely immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says, “When the work of this committee ends,” private security companies “will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don’t have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately.” US State Department spokesman Noel Clay says the department’s contractors will obey Iraqi law: “We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel.” A Blackwater spokeswoman says her firm is unaware of the Iraqi government’s decision. The Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq in September 2007 and threatened to expel the firm’s employees, but US officials ignored the order and renewed the company’s contract. Blackwater contractors have been involved in around 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, many involving Iraqi civilians. Five Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges for killing 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007, the incident that prompted the Interior Ministry to try to expel the firm from the country. The widow of one of the 17 civilians, Umm Tahsin, says of Blackwater: “Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2009]
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