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April 5, 2003
 
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Postwar Iraq May Be Hard on Public Order
Postwar Iraq May Have Tough Time Restoring Public Order in a Place Where Cops Can Be Criminals

The Associated Press


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Police will be needed to maintain order in postwar Iraq, but the country's cops are notorious for yanking out tongues, dipping dissidents in acid and feeding people to meat grinders.

The Bush administration has said little about how the U.S.-led coalition plans to impose law and order in a country where the criminal justice system is also the main criminal element.

Some security experts say nothing short of martial law may be needed to keep Iraq from drifting into chaos and factional fighting. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that U.S. troops "will stay for as long as is necessary to provide the security," but military commanders abhor the idea of getting involved in local law enforcement.

That worries some experts who saw security unravel in places like Kosovo.

"Changing a regime has radical consequences," said Sandra Mitchell, a lawyer who led the evidence-gathering for the current war crimes trial of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. "How are they going to restore public order in Iraq when the goal is to replace the current security regime?"

A sampling of a scenario that security specialists long predicted took place Thursday in the Iraqi city of Numaniyah, where looting, vandalism and general anarchy broke out the day after U.S. Marines took the town.

Some relief groups say they won't enter Iraq unless some sort of justice system is in place either through martial law or the culling of the worst of existing police officers and judges.

"We're not going to start handing out food, supplies and clean water if it's anarchy," said Joel Charny, an analyst for the Washington-based lobby group Refugees International. "The military was acknowledging up front that they were not going to be involved in policing. And now we see the danger of that strategy."

While humanitarian groups are leery of working with the military, they fear that unless coalition troops are made responsible for order there will be ethnic and religious feuding, guerrilla warfare and mass population movements once Saddam Hussein's grip is broken.

"Stabilizing Iraq is going to be more difficult, or as difficult, as getting rid of the regime," Mitchell said.

Since taking charge of Iraq's internal security forces in 1968, and then taking full power 11 years later, Saddam has run his country like a huge prison camp. Soldiers and police are at the top of a social order built on a foundation of fear and intimidation.

Though the degree of Saddam's threat to world peace is a topic of divisive global debate, human rights groups are unanimous in their assessment of his abuses.

Mental health professionals say the torture techniques practiced by Iraqi police are at the extreme edges of human depravity.

1 "The Iraqi victims are the worst," said psychologist Andrea Northwood, who has provided therapy to torture victims from more than 60 countries. "Their torture was severe and absolutely sadistic."

Some examples: "Tongues pulled out, watching people put through meat grinders. Tapes of a woman screaming and (police) saying, `That's your wife we're raping.'"

British troops this past week got a grisly glimpse into the system when they checked out the police station in Basra. They found a meat hook in one blood-splattered cell and live wires apparently used for electric shocks in another.

In 1991, an Associated Press reporter being held in Baghdad's police headquarters saw a screaming soldier being lashed with a thick cable as he was dragged off to a cell. His infraction: using the food ration card of a higher-ranking military man.

Iraqi jails are considered such horrible places and filled with political prisoners that Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq immediately opened the cells when they briefly held a handful of towns during a failed uprising after the first Gulf War in 1991.

The psychological wreckage could be harder to clean up than the bombed buildings and broken bridges from the current war.

"When somebody has intentionally gotten creative to come up with new versions of sadism, that's far more difficult to grasp," said Northwood. "It keeps intruding in the form of nightmares, flashbacks. The mind is trying to integrate them."

Many Iraqis in the United States are being "re-traumatized" by the war but can't get enough of the news coverage, she said.

Trauma centers dealing with torture victims have cropped up across the United States in the past decade, a reflection of the brutal levels to which some countries sank in the power vacuums created by the end of the Cold War.

Northwood said one of the major problems that trauma centers face is infiltration by secret police from authoritarian countries.

Iraqi refugees in particular are paranoid about associating with each other or forming communities like other immigrant groups. "We (sometimes) hear that someone's family was harassed and tortured back home based on their connection with someone here," Northwood said.

She said the culture of fear among the victims and the sense of superiority among the authorities put in power by Saddam could be an impediment to rebuilding Iraq. Every judge, prosecutor and security officer used to strait jacket the country had to take an oath of loyalty to Saddam's Baath party.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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