Iraqi PM said politicians should resist trying to politicise the fledging police force
Iraqi police women march during a parade to mark 90 years since its foundation in Baghdad. Iraq's fledgling police force, completely reformed after the 2003 US-led invasion, has marked 90 years since its foundation at a time of sectarian tensions in the face of political deadlock. © Ahmad al-Rubaye - AFP
Iraqi PM said politicians should resist trying to politicise the fledging police force
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Nafia Abdul-Jabbar, AFP
Last updated: January 9, 2012

Iraq police mark 90th birthday at time of tension

Iraq's fledgling police force, completely reformed after the 2003 US-led invasion, on Monday marked 90 years since its foundation at a time of sectarian tensions in the face of political deadlock.

The force, which has apologised for acts committed during the rule of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, held ceremonies in major cities such as Baghdad and Basra, after the army marked its 91st anniversary with a huge parade in the capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone on Friday.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, attending a police parade in Baghdad, paid tribute to the force but called on political rivals to resist politicising it amid concerns among his opponents that exactly that is taking place.

"We must not politicise the police -- the most dangerous of problems will affect the security process if they become politicised," Maliki said in a speech.

The premier also voiced hope that the police will be able to handle security on their own across the country, without assistance from the Iraqi army, by next year.

Official claims that Iraq's security forces are largely able to maintain internal security, if not defend its borders, have been dealt a blow by two sets of deadly attacks since US forces completed their withdrawal three weeks ago.

Bombings on Thursday targeting Shiite Muslims in Baghdad and southern Iraq killed 70 people, after a wave of attacks in the capital on December 22 left 60 people dead.

The violence came amid a bitter dispute between the Shiite-led government and the main Sunni-backed political bloc.

The government has accused Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, of running a death squad, and Maliki, a Shiite, has called for Sunni deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlak to be sacked.

US forces dismantled the Iraqi security forces after toppling Saddam in 2003 in a move later panned for having put hundreds of thousands of men with military training out of work creating a potent recruitment pool for insurgents.

Interior ministry security forces, made up of city, oil and federal police as well as border guards and the facilities protection service, now number around 650,000, according to government figures issued in October.

But even with their high staffing levels, multiple reports have assessed they do not inspire public confidence and are unable to secure Iraq's cities and towns without help from the army.

On Sunday, the interior ministry issued a statement apologising for the actions of police during Saddam's rule.

"Security forces in the interior ministry apologise for the practices that took place during the former regime," the ministry said. "They were forced to carry out practices that were not their duties."

Despite the apology for the failings of the past, Iraq's security forces still face criticism from human rights groups for heavy-handedness, random arrests and other abuses.

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