Iraq: The Hunting Clubs and the Future of Iraq

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May 16, 2006: While, on the surface, Iraq might appear to lack personal security, what it lacks more is trust. Decades of living in a police state made people justifiably paranoid. Removing the dictator did not remove the dictatorship. The thousands of men who made the dictatorship work, are still there. So is the fear they worked so long and hard to create.

But dozens of dictatorships have been toppled since 1989. While they all have some similarities, there were vast differences in their aftermaths. Democracy, it appears, is not an automatic cure-all for people who have spent a long time under the control of a dictatorship. That's largely because not all dictatorships are the same. Most, however, are dirty. That is, they are run by men with criminal tendencies. When the dictator is out of power, his criminal minions are out of control. This was most spectacularly the case in Russia, but occurred in several other new democracies as well. In some cases, the new democracies took on only the façade of democracy, and reverted to being a police state. In all cases, the democracy survived only if it could restore order and get the economy going.

Where does Iraq end up among all these former dictatorships? The biggest difference is that all the others fell from within. Iraq required an invasion to remove Saddam from power. That meant that the men who kept the dictator in power (the secret police, not the army) were still around. Worse, in Iraq, it was one religious minority (the Sunni Arabs) who had been running Iraq for generations. The Sunni Arabs, or at least a large number of them, refused to give up power. When Saddam was captured, months after being overthrown, he was still involved in the Sunni Arab efforts to regain power.

Like many people living in new democracies, Iraqis care less about democracy than they do about peace and jobs. That's how dictators stay in power. They offer law and order, and some economic opportunities. Those who do not accept what is offered, face death. Saddam's secret police and street thugs are, as much as possible, showing Iraqis the alternative to Sunni Arab rule. It is chaos and violence. They can only get away with this in parts of central Iraq where the majority of police and soldiers are not Kurds or Shia Arabs. Increasingly, Sunni Arab terrorists, encountering non-Sunni Arab police at a road block, are likely to be found out, and arrested, or worse.

And it gets worse. Kurds and Shia Arabs have set up a large number of "hunting clubs" to go after Saddams thugs. They feel that Sunni Arabs believe, "if we can't have it (control of the country), then no one can." The Kurds and Shia Arabs are also tired of decades of Sunni Arab arrogance and cruelty. It's payback time, and to hell with arrests and trials. Let's just go out and kill those bastards.

The government has found that the largest number of these hunting clubs are found in an obscure corner of the Interior Ministry. Namely, the Facilities Protection Service (FPS). This started out as a few thousand men hired to guard important buildings. But as peace returned to more of Iraq, it was accompanied by the growth of the FPS, which now has nearly 150,000 personnel, and no centralized leadership or control. The FPS guards are paid for, and controlled, by the government agency or civilian firm that uses them. All the Interior Ministry provides is training (not a lot), uniforms and weapons. The job doesn't pay much, but then it's not as dangerous as being a cop or soldier. Being in the FPS does provide you with military looking uniforms, a gun and the company of like minded fellows. Many of the Kurdish or Shia Arab death squads that have been uncovered and broken up, have been composed of FPS guys. The Interior Ministry is trying to root the others out, but it's difficult. The killers are often popular in their own neighborhoods, and among friends and family. Until "hunting" for Sunni Arabs is no longer tolerated, the death squads will continue to survive.

The Sunni Arab death squads are another matter. Many are still kept going by cash. It's a job, just like it was when Saddam was in charge. But more and more of the Sunni Arab thugs are doing it as a form of self-protection, or as part of a criminal (as opposed to terrorist) enterprise. "Peace and economic security" for Sunni Arabs often means kidnapping for cash, or running a protection racket in Sunni Arab neighborhoods that need protection from death squads.

Iraq is going to stay violent until the fear, and the number of guys with guns, is reduced.

 

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