Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Most Iraqi ministers have their offices located inside the heavily protected Green Zone, specifically inside the presidential palaces built by the former regime. These palaces still carry their old names without any change just like the names of the cities, squares, and streets throughout Iraq. Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani received us in Al-Adnani Palace.
Al-Bulani described the security situation in Iraq in general and specifically in Baghdad as “good.” He comments are based on a security report, which stated that the security services had not recorded a single kidnapping in the past several weeks and that no bombings had taken place in days; moreover recent murders could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Indeed Baghdad for a three day period earlier this month did not witness a single violent incident or even a single traffic accident, the report highlighted.
Al-Bulani told Asharq Al-Awsat that this improvement in the security situation was not “the product of the efforts made by the Interior Ministry’s organs alone but actually occurred with the help of other establishments that worked jointly with us, namely, all the establishments representing the Iraqi citizens who rose up in protest against the assaults on their lives, property, and honor.”
He added that a flood of information reaches the Interior Ministry’s organs every minute, “a fact that has enabled us to build a broad database that we formerly lacked.”
Al-Bulani pointed out that security patrols have enhanced their presence in the various streets and neighborhoods by 400 percent. According to the minister, thousands of families have begun to return to their homes.
Commenting on the restoration of trust between the Iraqi people and the various security services, which had been undermined by the fake checkpoints and the kidnappings for which the security forces were blamed, Al-Bulani said that the security forces have begun “to eliminate the outlaw elements that used to infiltrate our ranks.”
He added that his ministry has recruited more than 115,000policemen and has trained and supplied them with the most modern weapons and equipment. He explained that the addition of this number of police recruits seeks to “include elements who are loyal first and foremost to the homeland rather than to particular parties or political and religious factions.”
The interior minister admitted that his ministry needs “to carry out a comprehensive reassessment of its organization and rules of discipline and to exclude the persons who have particular sectarian or political affiliations.”
Commenting on the discrepancy between the types of weapons used by the security forces and those used by newly created armed groups, he said that the armed groups have more modern equipment. He said that the Interior Ministry had in the past two years relied on the weapons and equipment provided by the US forces, noting “beyond a very small outlay, not a single dollar was spent on the Interior Ministry.”
He added: “This discrepancy between the types of weapons and the armed groups’ superiority in this sphere was the result of the US forces’ vision, which was based on international criteria including having one police officer for every 500 citizens and arming the police with light firearms. This hindered the Interior Ministry’s performance at the beginning and weakened it before the other groups.”
Al-Bulani spoke about new tasks that have been added to the Interior Ministry’s responsibilities. He pointed out that under the former regime the total number of police personnel of all ranks did not exceed 60,000.He said that in the former era there were six security establishments, including the intelligence service, the domestic security service, and the local and private security services that helped the police in their work but today all their tasks are handled by the Interior Ministry. He declared: “You can imagine the magnitude of our tasks now.”
Asked how far the Iraqi security forces are ready to takeover responsibility for security in some cities, the interior minister replied:” With every improvement in the security situation, the time left for the multinational forces to stay in this country will become shorter. Our security services’ work and performance will undergo a change soon.”
He said that the European police forces’ experience in dealing with incidents is being copied and transferred to the Iraqi police now. He noted that EU agencies have begun to train the local police to perform their tasks according to the highest possible standards. He also said that experienced Iraqi policemen will be trained to carry out highly skilled tasks including forensics, the exchange of data, weaponry, and antiterrorism.”
In response to a question about the smuggling of weapons out of the Interior Ministry, Al-Bulani said: “This has actually happened. There are around 190,000 firearms unaccounted for.”
He attributed this situation to the “mistakes that the US forces made in supplying the police with weapons.” He explained that this involved distributing firearms to the police without their local commands being aware of it. He also said that private security guards and tribesmen were also given weapons.”
He added: “A sophisticated electronics system has recently been introduced to monitor the collection, counting, and accounting for the firearms in the ministry. This system will be able within a short time to retrieve around 70 percent of these weapons, especially if the US forces help us by providing some information about the number of firearms and those to whom they were delivered.”
He added: “Many of the lost weapons were discovered being bought and sold on the local black market. For this reason we established regulations for delivering weapons to our personnel and instituted penalties against violators, including making them pay a fine that is several times the price of every firearm that is smuggled.”
Regarding the issue of prosecuting Blackwater, the security company that operates in Iraq, the interior minister asserted that all security firms operating in Iraq are subject to scrutiny and their licenses will be withdrawn if any violation is observed.
He added: “They should adhere to the provisions of the contracts that they signed including deferring to army and police checkpoints and the multinational forces. They should show respect to them and not allow their tasks to overlap with the tasks of the police, army, and multinational forces in connection with security missions and other issues.”
Al-Bulani declared that Blackwater’s actions “violated the law,” noting that “it is supposed to be a security company, not a company that breaks the law and undermines security.”
He added that the government has made a decision to suspend this company’s work and place it under the jurisdiction of Iraqi law.
He said: “Everyone needs to understand that it is the Iraqi state’s policy not to allow any party whatsoever to violate the law and encroach on the state’s jurisdiction.”
Asked about the likelihood of terminating the presence of private security companies in Iraq, the interior minister explained that the presence of security companies is not a phenomenon that has solely appeared in Iraq, adding that such companies are found in most countries.
He added: “We live in exceptional conditions that impose their presence on us.”