Transfer of security responsibilities from Iraq's army to local police stalled by challenges
A year into Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani's tenure, his administration's pledge to transfer security duties from the army and Iran-backed militias to the local police in the predominantly Sunni western and northern provinces remains unfulfilled, raising questions about the government's commitment to this crucial promise.
For the third time in less than two months, Iraqi officials have reaffirmed their commitment to transferring the security from the army, presently stationed in northern and western provinces since 2014, to the local police. Nevertheless, they have not clarified whether factions affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) should also undertake a withdrawal.
Transferring security responsibilities from the army to the local police was a fundamental promise of Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani's administration when it assumed office in late October 2021.
Earlier this year, the army handed over security responsibilities to the police in several southern and central regions of Iraq, including Babil, Karbala, Wasit, Al-Muthanna, Najaf and Dhi Qar. The spokesperson for the Joint Operations Command, Tahsin Al-Khafaji, stated that the decision to transfer the security dossier to the police is part of the evaluations by the Higher Security Committee, chaired by Sudani, for each province.
The Iraqi Interior Minister, Abdul Amir Al-Shammari, last Monday, 11 September, revealed the imminent complete handover of security responsibilities to the local police in the provinces of Nineveh, Anbar, and Salah al-Din, which are currently under the control of the Iraqi army. However, he did not address the situation of the militias that are heavily present in these provinces, often using homes and buildings as their bases.
ISIS proclaimed itself as a 'caliphate' from Mosul city following a meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory. The US-led coalition helped defeat ISIS in Iraq in 2017 and Syria two years later.
Various experts and officials have differing opinions on the feasibility and necessity of removing armed factions from liberated cities of ISIS. Some argue it is essential for stability, while others believe it is challenging as the militias have tightly gripped the security portfolio. The Iraqi government is reluctant to address the issue.
"The situation in liberated provinces has become very stable, and there is no need for a large military presence in residential areas," Abdul Kareem Abtan, an Iraqi lawmaker from the Sovereignty Alliance, a Sunni political coalition, has told The New Arab's Arabic sister website Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed. "Now, the focus should be on activating intelligence efforts, and the security file should be in the hands of the police, whose duty is to maintain security and stability within cities, while the army remains ready for any emergencies outside the cities."
He emphasised this should not only apply to the withdrawal of the army but should also involve removing any other armed forces.
"Sudani had promised to implement this demand, which was set by Sunni political forces. However, there are doubts about implementing this matter, especially as many months have passed without any progress, "Abtan said.
Director of the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies, Ghazi Faisal, noted that the withdrawal of the armed groups from the cities is "very difficult" as the Iraqi government cannot drive them out. Moreover, Faisal added that militias have political agendas and financial interests that they are not ready to abandon easily.
In response, Ali Al-Husseini, a leader in PMF, described the PMF factions' presence in the liberated cities as "official forces deployed with the knowledge and approval of Sudani, similar to the army and the police."
He also claimed, "This presence by the PMF is aimed at preserving the achieved victories; the government is well aware of the importance of keeping them. Calls for withdrawing PMF forces are suspicious and serve an agenda that does not desire stability for Iraq."
Currently, several military and security forces and formations are involved in managing the security of cities, all operating under the umbrella of the Joint Operations Command located in each city. These include the Iraqi army, federal police, local police, counter-terrorism units, rapid response units, SWAT teams, military intelligence, national security, and national intelligence.
Additionally, factions affiliated with the PMF are also present, with their numbers reaching up to nine in some cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit. This situation occasionally leads to overlaps and conflicts regarding authority, resulting in tensions and issues among these factions.
All of this occurs alongside a noticeable militarisation of cities that has adverse effects on the lives of the Iraqi people.