Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Coalition Blamed for Weak Security

Recent atrocities were partly the result of international forces’ failure to provide adequate policing and border controls, critics say.
By Aqil Jabbar

In the wake of the Karbala and Baghdad bombings which left nearly 200 people dead, the United States-led Coalition has been blamed for what some Iraqis say is its failure to provide adequate security to prevent such attacks.


Critics says the US has neglected its obligations as occupying power by sealing Iraq’s borders to stop foreign fighters slipping into the country. Nor have the Americans given Iraqis the means to defend themselves, they say.


Speaking after the March 2 attacks, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Shia-led Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, said, "The forces of occupation bear responsibility, because they neither protect the Iraqi people nor let them protect themselves."


Many Iraqis say the Coalition is at fault for failing to secure the country’s borders. "America is responsible – it cannot control the borders, and this lets terrorists enter Iraq easily," said Muayyad Jaafar, 27, a resident of al-Kadhemiya, the Baghdad district hit by the bombings.


"There are no serious checks on Iraq's borders,” said Jaafar. “I saw this myself when I went to Jordan to buy a car. I came back to Iraq without anyone checking me, without even a passport or travel document."


Coalition spokespersons counter that it is often impossible to stop committed and resourceful attackers.


After the explosions – which targeted the Shia shrines in Karbala and Kadhemiya on one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims – the Coalition’s deputy director of operations, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, said that US forces normally keep their distance from such sacred places. Instead, he said, forces answering to the Shia religious establishment are responsible for security at the shrines, while Iraqi police forces man checkpoints on the approaches to town, often in cooperation with local militias.


Many Iraqi police say the Coalition fails to provide them with proper resources, and does not coordinate with them. Some allege that US forces let suspected terrorists go even when Iraqis do catch them.


"We don't have communication devices, and the American forces leave us on our own. So we were unable to control or prevent the explosions," said Hossam al-Rashidi, a policeman from the west Baghdad district of al-Bayaa.


Rashidi recalls an incident in which three local security officers investigating the site of an explosion were fired upon by US troops, who believed they were the perpetrators. Although Coalition forces apologised and compensated the victims' families, he says, the incident underscores the lack of coordination.


In many cases, the accusations of negligence are fuelled by rumour. For example, after the Kadhemiya attacks, there were rumours that that Coalition forces released two Saudi citizens captured red-handed by SCIRI's Badr Brigade militia just after the blast.


"They [the Badr militiamen] caught one of the terrorists after his explosive belt failed to work, then the Coalition arrived and took them," said Salim Araibi, a goldsmith in Kadhemiya. He later heard that the men had been released.


Interviewed by IWPR, Kimmitt confirmed that two Saudis had been arrested after the blasts, but said the Coalition had uncovered no evidence against them and found that they had entered the country legally.


On the question of border defence, Kimmitt said US forces had captured some illegal immigrants, but that their job is made harder when the tribes that spanned the frontiers actively assist the infiltrators.


"The tribes help them come inside in western Iraq, in the towns of Huseiba and al-Qaem," he said.


Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer pledged on March 13 to step up security on Iraq’s “porous borders” through “increased personnel, new technology and tighter procedures”.


Bremer said in a statement that the Coalition would double the 8,000 frontier security officers currently deployed, limit the number of border crossing points, and set up a system to positively identify anyone entering or leaving Iraq.


But Kimmitt told a press conference the day after the bombings that full control over Iraq's borders was impossible.


"The problem of terrorism is not one that can just be stopped by putting a wall a mile high around a 1,700 kilometre border," he said.


"If terrorists are clever enough to set up the type of bombs we've seen, they're certainly clever enough to get through the borders."


Aqil Jabbar is a trainee journalist with IWPR in Baghdad.