IS THE IRAQI INTERIM ADMINISTRATION CRACKING DOWN ON CRIME?
IS THE IRAQI INTERIM ADMINISTRATION CRACKING DOWN ON CRIME?
Bush must be grateful that media attention has shifted away from
Others in my situation have pointed out that the fall-off in coverage is probably simple loyalty to the Bush administration and not an actual dearth of news. As Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch commented, "In first two weeks after the 'transition,' our media largely gave the Bush administration a free ride in
During this news hiatus -- before the July 14 suicide attack brought
On Tuesday, the interim Iraqi government, flexing its new muscles without American help, mounted a major sweep of criminals in
Safety is, by far, the major concern of Iraqis, and they frequently complain that the American military has been less concerned with ordinary crimes, which have skyrocketed, than with bombings and terror attacks. The raids on Tuesday seemed intended to show that the new interim government, which took power [sic] from American occupation forces here two weeks ago, would not only move forcefully against everyday violence, but was capable of doing so alone.
"There was no coordination with the Americans in these arrests,"
The raid, the second in the past week, was carried out by the
There are four things about this news item that merit comment:
· First, the Iraqi administration is trying to do something about "the major concern of Iraqis." This is the year's gross understatement: in the May poll conducted by the Coalition (a very well run poll that covers the six largest cities in the country), 59% of Iraqis designated security as their major concern, more than all other problems combined. And, it needs to be understood, this insecurity derives largely from criminal, not insurgent, behavior. Fully 40% said that the main source of concern for their family "street crime" -- more than twice the score for roadside bombings (17%), the next highest security problem.
This may sound very abstract, but it is not. The crime wave in
· Second, it is noteworthy that the Times is finally reporting that the "security" problems of ordinary Iraqis have little to do with the insurrection. Until now, the Times, the Post, and the other mass media have all conveyed the impression (or stated as fact) that people's fears of violence were primarily caused by the insurgency (either through direct attack on civilians or by drawing American fire). Now, finally, the Times reported that "ordinary crimes" are the principle source of Iraqis' "safety concerns." (We should remember, however, that this key fact is buried on page 14 in the middle of an article headlined "Iraq Militants said to Behead Truck Driver From Bulgaria.")
· Third, the article reveals, in passing, that this one of the primary reasons for Iraqi hatred of the Americans. The operant phrase is: "the Iraqis frequently complain that the American military has been less concerned with ordinary crimesâ€¦than with bombings and terror attacks." This is so understated that it is almost a lie. The
· This, too, is reflected in the recent CPA poll. Only 2% say that Coalition patrols are a main source of security, compared to 9% who see the Coalition as the chief source of danger. Fully 55% say they would feel safer if the
· Finally, in attacking this problem, the interim government went out of its way to dissociate this action from the Occupation. Allawi announced: "There was no coordination with the Americans. This was done totally by Iraqis." In order for the interim government to have any credibility among Iraqis, it must not be associated with the Americans. In fact, more than three quarters of Iraqis said that the interim administration should "order the coalitions forces to leave
This necessity for dissociation places the interim administration in an untenable position. The U.S. government will continue to insist on joint military patrols, on control of the reconstruction programs the U.S. has funded, and for collegial coordination between the newly minted administration and the newly minted American ambassador.(For proof of this, see the three articles in the New York Times on July 18 by Somini Sengupta, James Glanz, and Ian Fisher.) Such explicit cooperation makes it impossible for Allawi to maintain the "no coordination with Americans" stance he adopted for this operation. As a consequence, we can expect the credibility of the new administration to decline as quickly as its alliance with the Occupation is fully revealed. Brave declarations of independence will soon fall on deaf ears.
The campaign against ordinary crime is a worthy one, but its prognosis is not good. Unfortunately, we cannot be confident that it will do anything more than harass and arrest innocent people. This pessimistic prognosis rests on three unfortunate facts:
· The 17 months of neglect by the Occupation have allowed individual thugs and criminals to evolve into organized crime, with ties to each other and to resourceful outsiders. They are now far better organized than the Iraqi police. In fact, many of the police are agents of, beholden to, or afraid of the organized criminals, and this means the police will go after small fry or innocent people. As time goes on, this effect will become larger and larger, with the enforcement process ultimately driving the little criminals into the protective cover of the larger criminal syndicates. It could actually make things worse.
· Americans recruit, train, and supervise the Iraqi police, and they have little interest in catching these criminals. Instead, insofar as the police have the wherewithal to enter Iraqi communities to search houses and seize wanted individuals, the
In the very first week of the new campaign, the migration away from criminal enforcement had already begun. Prime Minister Allawi had attributed the spectacular suicide bombing in the Green Zone as a response to "arrests of the last couple of days," which were, according to Times reporter Gettleman, "sweeping up hundreds of suspected terrorists and criminals." In other words, the focus on capturing criminals had already shifted to a joint operation against insurgents and criminals.
· Even if these other factors were not at work, the Iraqi administration would likely abandon this effort in a short time. The "interim government" is staffed by political entrepreneurs whose alliance with the Bush Administration was constructed on the basis of relentless self-interest. In their previous incarnation as the Iraqi Governing Council, Allawi and his cohorts established an unblemished record of personal aggrandizement, gaining (as columnist Josh Marshall put it) "a (well-deserved) reputation for corruption." Even the CPA, apparently oblivious to most aspects of the growing crisis from November to June, recognized this as a key problem -- declaring that "their corruption is our corruption" in an April report that discussed the nepotism, favoritism, and venality of various key leaders. (A useful summary of the report can be found in the Village Voice, April 20.)
There is no reason for the "interim government" to behave differently from its Iraqi Governing Council, since its origins and make-up are largely identical. It will therefore pursue only those politics that directly benefit the leadership itself. Unfortunately, consistent law enforcement is not very profitable; whereas inconsistent law enforcement can be very profitable. In this atmosphere, we can predict that the raids will sooner or later (almost certainly sooner) become window dressing -- once the interim administration forges lucrative alliances with organized crime.
Ultimately, the effort of the Iraqi government to gain credibility by serving the interests of ordinary Iraqis will founder on the same shoals that have brought the country to its current misery: the dynamics of American occupation are simply contrary to the welfare of the Iraqi people.
Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency, and on American business and government dynamics. His work on