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Securing Iraq

September 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: For the past four months the American leading the effort to build up Iraqi security forces is former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. While in Iraq Kerik served as interim minister of the interior and as a senior adviser to Paul Bremer, the top American in Iraq. Kerik has been in Washington briefing officials.

Welcome to the program.

What did you have to tell them about the state of the effort of getting Iraq to take over its security duties?

BERNARD KERIK: I think basically I told him what I tell everybody. It’s going to take time. We have to stay committed. We have to stay focused. And I’m optimistic. I have learned an enormous amount about the Iraqi people, about their dedication, their courage, what they’ve gone through over the last 35 years. And they want to get this done.We stood up nearly 40,000 police officers, brought them back, 35 police stations in Baghdad.

They are out there doing a very dangerous job at this point. There’s a lot of resistance, there’s a resistance out there that does not want to lose their power. They’ve lost their power, they’ve lost their jobs. They’ve lost Saddam. And they’re fighting back as a last ditch effort, and we have to continue the battle.

RAY SUAREZ: Were you starting from scratch in this effort to get a national police system going, or were there some at least building stones from the old police forces that existed before the war?

BERNARD KERIK: Ray, there wasn’t much of anything. We basically started from scratch. The police department, as the military did, sort of dismantled. The looting that went on in the early days, eliminated the police stations, the cars, the infrastructure, the communications. And, you know, I hear people on a daily basis criticize the president, you’re not moving fast enough. In four months we brought back 40,000 police officers, 400 cars in Baghdad, 35 stations, communications all over the country just about to the police; we’ve ordered equipment, we’ve put together a 2003 budget, we did it in four months. I couldn’t have done that in New York City as the police commissioner in five years. So I’m not really sure what the critics are talking about when they’re saying it’s taking too long.

RAY SUAREZ: Was it tough to make the call to purge members of the Baath Party, in effect prevent them from service in your new police forces?

BERNARD KERIK: Well, it was easy at the highest levels because you know that the top three levels, ferca [ph] and above, the ferca [pH] levels and above in the Baath Party, are the senior most levels, they couldn’t get in those positions unless they were appointed by Saddam or his immediate underlings. So those were automatics. The rest is difficult to deal with. You have to sort of identify who are the bad, who was doing human rights violations, committing criminal acts, corruption. Those people you have to sort of identify one by one, and naturally they lied. They say I wasn’t in the Baath Party, I wasn’t a senior member, I had nothing to do with criminal activity. One by one, you weed them out. We brought back probably initially…42,000. When I left, we had about 37,000. So we eliminated about 5,000.

RAY SUAREZ: Is it tough making a police force out of men who bring a different ethic, bring a different standard to the work, when dealing with prisoners, when dealing with the chain of evidence and the various disciplines that you learned as a cop coming up in New York?

BERNARD KERIK: You have to make sure that you train them, and that’s extremely important right now. One, we have to retrain the cops that we brought back. And we have to make sure that the cops that we hire, recruit and train in the future are trained. We have an integration and transition program that the cops go through now, it’s three weeks long, it teaches them principles of policing in a democratic and free society.

It also teaches them that they can’t torture and abuse someone during an interrogation and an interview. And the new cops that come in, they’ll have an eight-week training program that they go through to teach them many of the same principles.

RAY SUAREZ: There are people being shot and killed because they’re cooperating with the Americans. Then there are accidents, like the fire fight that resulted in the death of ten police. Is it a very difficult decision for a 21, 22-year-old Iraqi man to walk into one of your stations and say I want to be a policeman?

BERNARD KERIK: Ironically you would think that to be the case, but I have to tell you, when they had the bombing in Ramadi and when they had some of the attacks on the cops in Baghdad, the mortar attacks and RPG attacks on the police stations and police cars, there was a surge of people that wanted to come to the police force, police service.

We also had a big surge of former police officers that were forced to retire, forced to resign over the last ten years for political reasons. They want to come back; they want to fights the Baathists. I think the people that are attacking the coalition and attacking the cops, they are creating enemies within.

RAY SUAREZ: So how do you know who you’re dealing with when someone presents themselves to be trained — how do you understand where their loyalties really lie, to the governing council in the new Iraq or perhaps to the old Iraq and the elements you’re trying to fight?

BERNARD KERIK: Well, I think this goes to, this goes back to the key of how we’re going to succeed in the future in Iraq: intelligence. I don’t think necessarily that we have to put more troops in Iraq, I think we have to make sure the troops we have there are used where they should be. But I think the key to the success of Iraq is intelligence. We can’t fight a battle; we can’t fight an enemy we can’t see. You can’t deter someone that wants to die. You can’t– the coalition can’t identify the Iraqis that are good and bad but the Iraqis can.

If you pick the right leaders and you place them in the right positions, let them do their job and that’s sort of what’s going on in the police now. We appointed a senior deputy minister, we appointed the chiefs in Baghdad throughout the rest of the country. We have to make sure that we keep track of them, monitor them, but let them do their job, let them pick the right people; then the job gets done.

RAY SUAREZ: Is this something that have you to do with an eye toward the real social landscape of Iraq — ethnic groups, the use of women, the training of religious minorities for work in different areas of the country?

BERNARD KERIK: All of the above. We’ll be looking at women within the police department, we look at the different ethnic groups, we look at the different tribal groups. But here’s the key. There is now going to be one standard, this, there is a standard for recruitment, there’s a standard for training. If you can fit the minimum requirements, can you go to training, if you pass training you can become a cop, and if you do well you can be promoted. That’s the new Iraqi police service — everybody included, Sunni, Shia, female, male, it doesn’t make any difference.

RAY SUAREZ: In a recent article in Newsweek Magazine, correspondent Chris Dickey referred to Paul Bremer and yourself as in the bubble — telling American leaders back in Washington the things from your vantage point were going pretty well, but insulated from the privations that many rank and file Iraqis have to deal with every day, so maybe missing just how bad things can be in small provincial towns and away from the capital. How do you respond to that?

BERNARD KERIK: Well, I guess I didn’t see the article, I can’t respond to the article. But what I can say is I lived in the city every day, I wasn’t behind the walls of the palace, I went to the police stations, I ate in, for the last month that I was in Iraq I ate in a different restaurant almost every night. I rode through the streets of the city, I entered the markets, I was all over Iraq, all over Baghdad. I think from an insider’s point of view, I know what the feel is, I know what the people see, I know what they believe, I also know what their perceptions are.

You have to remember, their perceptions today are driven by a media and a press they’ve never had before. Pre-Saddam they had two newspapers and a TV station all controlled by him, today there are more than 150 newspapers and all kind of television shows and things and satellite dishes they’ve never had access to before.

So their perceptions are going to be driven by the media just as ours is at home, by personal feelings, by their own insight. And I have a pretty good idea what that is, I was there, I lived there.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you lived there. Do you want to go back to see how it all turns out?

BERNARD KERIK: Ironically, I do. My wife is not going to like to hear that, but I do. Ironically, I’m here a week now and I miss it. I’ll be back, in one way or another, I’ll be back and I’m going to do everything in my power to help President Bush get the job done.

RAY SUAREZ: Bernard Kerik, thank you very much.

BERNARD KERIK: Ray, thank you.