Washington Babylon — September 11, 2007, 3:50 pm

Jerry Burke on Iraq’s Corrupt Police Force

Yesterday General David Petraeus spoke before Congress. “Iraq’s armed forces are improving,” the Washington Post said in summarizing Petraeus’s remarks. “Overall violence is down. Sunnis are turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and many Baghdad neighborhoods are more peaceful.” Petraeus said there were 445,000 individuals employed by the Interior and Defense ministries, a figure he expected to grow by as much as 40,000 by the end of the year.

So it would seem things are looking up. But it’s not so, according to Jerry Burke, a retired major in the Massachusetts state police who served for two years as a senior advisor on police affairs to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. Burke, who is also a former director of the New England Institute of Law Enforcement Management, served two terms in Iraq; his most recent assignment ended in March 2006.

Burke takes a dim view of the Iraqi army and of the National Police commanded by the Minister of the Interior. In planning for 2006, he told me, U.S. officials assumed a daily KIA—“killed in action”–of 10 Iraqi policemen. It was further assumed that 15 police per day would be injured so seriously that they would be forced out of service. Burke says Petraeus is partly responsible for the situation. Here’s what he told me:

After nearly four years of training, the Iraqi Army should be much more capable and prepared. Instead it is riddled with cronyism and corruption. There are large numbers of ghost employees. When the ‘surge’ began the U.S. asked for support in Baghdad from a number of Army units. It turned out those units had a lot more personnel on paper than in reality. Payrolls are padded and officials within the ministry skim off the extra money allocated to pay and equip ghost employees.

Within the Ministry of Interior there are two large Police Services. One is the Iraqi Police Service (IPS)–traditional street cops. I still hold out some hope for this force. The other is known as the National Police. It has been created, trained, and advised solely by the U.S. military and is supposed to be a counterterrorism force.

Many of its members were recruited directly from Shiite militia groups like the Badr Brigade. It was formerly called the Special Police, but the name was changed because the group was associated with human rights abuses. The National Police is not salvageable. It should be disbanded and many of its members should be prosecuted for criminal human rights violations, war crimes, and death squad activities.

A lot of the problems with the National Police are due to poor training. There is no vetting or pre-employment screening and recruits only get eight weeks police training. There is no emphasis on refresher training for any of the police, as there is in the United States, and there is almost no supervisory or management training.

Petraeus bears some responsibility for this state of affairs. He was commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command in 2004 and 2005. That organization was responsible for training the army and police services. That was also the time the National Police was created and expanded. He should be well aware of problems surrounding the various security forces, but he’s in a hard position to be critical because he was instrumental in the training programs.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

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The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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