An Episode of Bringing Democracy to Iraq

And just exactly where do we think our Iraqi friends learned such “dragnet” tactics?

Iraqis jail many innocents, U.S. says
By Sean D. Naylor, Military Times

BAGHDAD — U.S. officers here say they are increasingly troubled by the high number of innocent Iraqis being detained and held — in some cases for many months — by the Iraqi army.

Several officers who serve as advisers to the Iraqis said at least half the people detained by the Iraqi army in Baghdad are innocent.

And the advisers say their close association with the units doing the detaining is placing the Americans on the horns of an ethical dilemma: On one hand, they are forbidden from taking unilateral action in order to free the prisoners; on the other hand, by not freeing innocent detainees being held by their close allies, they feel complicit in what some termed “a war crime.”

In at least one case, a U.S. officer received a letter of admonishment from a general officer after taking it upon himself to free 35 prisoners he knew had been wrongly detained.

All U.S. officers interviewed for this story also said that the practice of locking up people who have done nothing wrong is counterproductive, and directly contrary to the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual.

“In (counterinsurgency) environments, distinguishing an insurgent from a civilian is difficult and often impossible,” the manual states. “Treating a civilian like an insurgent, however, is a sure recipe for failure.”

U.S. and Iraqi army officers said the problems worsened March 1, when, as part of the new Baghdad security plan, the U.S. military transferred authority for running operations in Baghdad to the Iraqi military and the Iraqis assumed responsibility for detainees. Prior to March 1, U.S. officers down to the battalion level had the authority to order the release of detainees, according to a senior U.S. Army official in Baghdad.

Reasons behind detaining

U.S. officers see two main reasons why the Iraqi army detains so many innocents.

The first is what some termed the Iraqis’ “dragnet” approach of arresting all military-age males in the vicinity of an attack on U.S. or Iraqi forces, or of a large weapons cache at the time of its discovery by Iraqi troops.

Lt. Col. Steve Duke, leader of the U.S. military transition team of advisers for the 5th Brigade of the Iraqi army’s 6th Division, cited two recent examples of this dynamic at work.

In late March, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 10th Iraqi Army Division detained 54 men in Baghdad after an improvised explosive device attack, he said.

“If you were near the IED, or you could spell IED, you were detained,” he said.

It took “a couple of weeks” before the Iraqis released any of them, he said.

“The Iraqis are not good at field interviews … and there’s a perception that subordinate commanders do not have the authority to release, but they do have the authority to detain,” Duke said.

Authority to release any detainee rests with Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abud Ganbar Hashimi, who heads the Baghdad Operational Command, said Maj. Michael Philipak, a U.S. Army intelligence officer who advises the Iraqi army 6th Division.

The second reason cited by U.S. officers is that the Iraqi defense and interior ministries are drawing up lists of individuals to be detained and sending them down to brigade and even battalion levels of the Iraqi army, all based on “intelligence” that is never shared with either Iraqi commanders or their U.S. counterparts, according to American and Iraqi officers.

“In the old days — and now — we are the ones who create intelligence according to information we receive from sources,” said Capt. Amjad Abbas Hasson, intelligence officer for 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division.

“Back in the day the orders were to investigate the targets,” Amjad added. “Now it’s always ‘detain,’ never ‘investigate.'”

Read it here.

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