Monday, August 20, 2007


Clampdown on sectarain gunmen in guardforce

(The Times) - Nearly 500 guards were removed from their posts at the Ministry of Culture in Iraq yesterday as the Government tried to curb the influence of sectarian gunmen. The men will be moved out of the frontline as they await a place at a police college to be retrained. They were replaced with 80 policemen. The move is the lastest effort of Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, to clean up the unregulated ranks of civilian gunmen who guard the country’s ministries and whose loyalties are to a mishmash of different parties rather than the state.
“This is the best long-term plan for the future,” said Lieutenant-General Aboud Qanbar, the top Iraqi commander in Baghdad who is in charge of implementing the new policy. Armed with a gun and a glare, many of the guards hired to protect Government buildings, hospitals and mosques play a part in the sectarian divisions that fuel the violence in Iraq, with members of Shia and Sunni militias infiltrating their ranks. Another big problem is a lack of training and exper-tise because no central authority has been vetting the 170,000 gunmen, who have guarded official structures since the March 2003 invasion.
Last week scores of gunmen in commando uniform kidnapped six senior officials from an Oil Ministry compound in Baghdad, almost three months after five Britons were seized in an equally bold raid on a Finance Ministry building in the city. In both cases the Iraqi security guards on duty were unwilling or unable to put up a fight, raising questions about their legitimacy and effectiveness.
The Ministry of Health, a Shia Sadrist ministry accused of allowing members of the al-Mahdi Army militia on to its payroll, was the first to be targeted in June. It was followed by the Ministry of Culture, which until recently had been under the control of a Sunni minister and was suspected of allowing Sunni insurgent groups to infiltrate its security guards. “We want to be sure of balance, so nobody feels that we are acting towards a certain [group],” said General Qanbar, a military man with a reputation for getting things done.
Cleaning up the Culture Ministry is just a small step in the right direction. Initially charged with sorting out security at a handful of ministry headquarters, General Qanbar ultimately hopes to tackle the wider problem of corruption among guards at facilities such as railway lines, oil installations and colleges from Basra in the south to Mosul in the north.
“This is a very bad, corrupted situation. I think the Iraqi Government has to make a strong decision,” he said, adding that such personnel were unqualified civilians who should be retrained as policemen or shifted into other jobs. A draft law for the protection of Iraq’s infrastructure is passing through Parliament. Once on the statute book it would make all security guards answerable to the Ministry of the Interior. “With that law we will be able to get rid of all these problems,” General Qanbar said. He has already made headway at a large medical compound in Baghdad, which houses the Health Ministry, five hospitals and Baghdad University’s Dental College.

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