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Iraq: Days of Disorder

April 11, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Who’s responsible for restoring order in Iraq, and how should it be done? We get four views.

James Dobbins held top state department and White House posts under four presidents.As the Bush administration’s envoy to Afghanistan, he helped install the new post-Taliban government there. He’s now director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND, a Washington think tank. Eugene Fidell is founder and president of the National Institute of Military Justice. He’s a former Coast Guard lawyer. Retired Army Major-General Dave Meade commanded the tenth mountain division when it provided military backup for the 1993 change in government in Haiti. He went on to command all military forces there, including those sent by other countries. And retired army Colonel W. Patrick Lang, one of the NewsHour’s regular wartime military analysts, is a former special forces officer and Middle East intelligence analyst.

Welcome, gentlemen. Let’s start with the question that Sec. Rumsfeld laid on the table. Jim Dobbins, is he right? Has this been just way overplayed by the press?

JAMES DOBBINS: I think so. If we’ve still got the situation going a week from now, then we’re in trouble. But for this situation to obtain 24 hours after you’ve liberated the country and while you still have pockets of fighting going on strikes me as rather normal and not something to worry about as long as it is brought under control.

MARGARET WARNER: Not something to worry about, Pat Lang?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, as the ambassador says, if it stops, that’s great. Presumably they’re going to stop carrying things out of the buildings when there are no more things to carry out and the emotional fires will burn down. But I think if it goes on very long, you have to do something about this because the society is coming unraveled in the process and that can’t be allowed to go on forever. But I don’t understand why they’re so emotional about this in the responses to these rather probing questions to the press, after all, that’s the press’s job. You know they were going to win. I would think they would just shrug it off but they don’t seem to do that.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it in terms of, Gen. Meade, in terms of the looting and disorder that we’re seeing? Is it undercutting the military success there or has this been overplayed just because of it provides a great picture? MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: I don’t think it is undercutting the success of the United States armed forces now. But I think the secretary of defense has made a good point and that his concerns are real, because if it is not a problem today, if it not compelling, it is going to be a problem at some time. We are going to see a continued deterioration at least to some degree, of whatever could be called society and civil order in Iraq before we see things get better, so the trick for the United States is the transition. At some point the United States Army and United States marines fighting forces are not going to be in country.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Eugene Fidell, whose responsibility is it legally to restore order in Iraq?

EUGENE FIDELL: Legally, Margaret, that responsibility rests on the United States as the occupying power. Under The Hague regulations which date from 1907, the occupying power has the obligation to restore and ensure order as far as possible, being mindful of the existing laws of the country.

MARGARET WARNER: So, and what about the Geneva Convention? I’ve heard that mentioned. Does that also bring responsibility with it?

EUGENE FIDELL: Yes, the fourth Geneva Convention also has a number of provisions in it that relate to how an occupation should be shaped and the way the civilian population should be dealt with. But the immediate issues, I think, are issues relating to The Hague regulations.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Dobbins, one, do you agree with it that, that it is the U.S. legal responsibility, and if so, does it begin right now? You know, the argument you’re hearing from the CENTCOM briefers is our troops are over there still fighting a war. We can’t spare troops for police function by and large. Does it begin now even while the war fighting is going on?

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, the responsibility begins, but how reasonable it is to think that you can fulfill it entirely immediately is a different question. So, yes, it is our responsibility, yes, we have to do something about it. Can we instantly and comprehensively solve it? No. Can we progressively solve it? Yes. If it is still like this a week from now, are we in big trouble? Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Gen. Meade, which forces… if the U.S. has the obligation, which forces do it? Should it be the fighting troops that are there on the ground now, the military police? Who should actually do it?

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: Initially the fighting forces that are there on the ground now — both of the marine corps and of the army and we are talking primarily about infantrymen and some military police. I think we’ll probably end up putting lots of military police in there; at one point when we went to Haiti, we had eight companies when normally an infantry division only has one. Then the military police then will sort of show the way. And incrementally we can bring in police forces of other countries, for instance, that would be willing to accept that responsibility.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. But let’s talk about the here and now and the U.S. military’s role. Pat Lang, you were arguing on this program last night that fighting troops are not trained to do this. Make your case.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think they’re not well suited for this kind of role. As the general says, it is going to be necessary to use them in this role, and with close supervision and encouragement, the example of whatever MP’s are available, they’ll do the job without a doubt. I don’t have any doubt about that at all.

But in fact it would be much more desirable to have a large force of military police there. If they need to bring in more from the states, then they ought to do that; if they have to pull them out of the reserve establishment or someplace else, this is an urgent need; it’s a big country. You know, it’s not like Afghanistan or even Haiti, which were fairly small societies or very tribal. This is a highly integrated urban kind of setting, and you need a lot of people to establish a working police force.

MARGARET WARNER: How many people do you think would be needed? This is a country of twenty-three/twenty-four million people. What are you talking about?

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: Well, considering the size of the force that we have in there now.

MARGARET WARNER: Which is about 130,000, hard to put an exact figure.

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: We’re going to need five, six, seven thousand police officers in there right away. They can come from, as I say, from a broad number of different sources. But the people who own the ground and the territory right now are the fighting forces. They’re the ones that know what is going on in Baghdad and in the other cities and on the main supply routes back down to the south. They’re experienced at all that. So we have to have an incremental orderly changeover to whatever becomes the more lasting constabulary.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re nodding your head.

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, I was responding to the comment that we ought to be looking for some international civilian police to complement what our forces can do. We put 1,000 international civilian police into Haiti. We put 5,000 in Kosovo. And Kosovo is only a society of less than two million people — so 12 times smaller.

So, you know, an analogy would be 50,000 of them in Iraq. That is one area where we may have been a little slow to recruit and at least begin to flow international civilian police in – in the next few weeks. And there has been talk that yes we are thinking about this, or, yes, we’re positively inclined to do that. Wolfowitz said that yesterday. But I don’t think we have actually recruited any, nor have we, in fact, recruited any Americans for the task.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just get Gene Fidell back in here even though he’s not at the table. Mr. Fidell, what about the rules of engagement? This morning at the CENTCOM briefing, Gen. Brooks said that troops have been instructed that they’re not to shoot looters, for instance. How do you– first of all, what are our sort of legal obligations on that score? Do they shift between being in your fighting force mode versus the very same troops that may be in Baghdad but are also doing this semi-policing role?

EUGENE FIDELL: Right. What happens is that you sort of move through the looking glass when you shift from fighting the armed forces on the other side to a more law enforcement function and you obviously have to have a different mindset when you’re making that transition. It is a very difficult transition and it is being done in real-time. So I think that the notion that there may be some awkwardness in making that transition is a very real concern.

It is a transition that can be eased if the people who are going to be responsible for suppression of looting or prevention of looting are relatively fresh troops, let’s say, who have not had to deal with the shooting war as such. I also think, Margaret, it is quite important to bear in mind the next stage of the process, which has to do with what you do with looters and that involves getting a law enforcement machinery, the court system, up and running, whether it’s an Iraqi system subject to modifications or whether it’s provost marshal courts, which would be part of a military court system created by the United States as the occupying power.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see the rules of engagement issue?

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: The rules of engagement is going to be very tricky in this kind of but if you ever get to the point where those who are looters believe that there is nothing that really can happen to them, and that they can, in the most open and flagrant kind of a way, rob.

MARGARET WARNER: As we’ve seen.

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: As we’ve seen, then you have a problem that is just going to grow. I want to follow on to Jim quickly. That is the international police monitors that we had in Haiti were very high quality people, police officers and constables from all over the world. They did a wonderful job. They were led by Ray Kelly who is presently the commissioner of the police department in New York. That’s the kind of outfit we had down there.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: You know, this is actually a very different situation than that. I mean Haiti is an island and the other half of the island filled by the Dominican Republic that wasn’t infiltrating fanatical fighters into Haiti to continue the struggle the way some of the other countries are. We have people showing up in the country and they’re probably not going away too soon. You are going to continue to have an ongoing combat situation in which combat forces are going to try to deal with that as well as try to remember that they’re not supposed to shoot looters. I mean, it’s going to be really tough, you know?

I think people ought to think about the Iraqi police and get over the idea that the Ba’ath Party equals the Nazi Part. In fact, this was a situation in Iraq in which lots and lots of people belonged to the Ba’ath Party because it was a mass movement. It was what the rulers of the country had and they’re not some kind of strange three-headed being, you know…

MARGARET WARNER: But aren’t the Iraqi police – and I noticed that Gen. Myers said today in fact we’re looking for the good Iraqi police – that wasn’t his exact phrase – but what are the risks in that when it seems as a lot of the population did not care for anyone in that law enforcement structure?

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, we certainly will try to make use of the police. We’ll try to conduct a purge of the leadership but keep enough people so that we can get somebody between us and the crowd, somebody between us and the criminals if at all possible. How successful it will be, I’m not sure. Remember, that’s what we intended to do in Haiti, and then as our troops – I’m sure Dave will remember this – getting off the ships, you know, disembarking the Haitian police tried to control the crowd and began committing human rights violations right in front of our eyes and right in front of your eyes, international press.

We sent seven more companies of the MP’s down the next morning because we said, you know, a plan says we’re going to use the Haitian police, we can’t – they’ve apparently – I’m sure the plan said we use the police in Baghdad and now the commanders, according to this report, said, no we can’t, so you know, you’re going to have to adjust from day to day, but the plan certainly will call for maximizing use of existing police to the extent they’re (a) reliable and (b) acceptable to the people, and we’ll have to test those theses, and if they turn out to be false, we’ll have to substitute for them.

EUGENE FIDELL: Margaret, if I can comment.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, please do.

EUGENE FIDELL: There’s an old – in the Gilbert and Sullivan literature there’s a tune that goes the policeman’s lot is not a happy one, and I think one of the things about performing police functions when there’s such a paroxysm of public anger at the former regime is that you may make yourself extremely unpopular. One of the things we are trying to do obviously is not make this situation worse in terms of our own dealing with and building bridges with the Iraqi people so this is something that we have to be very mindful of and it may be that we are not going to find the necessary numbers of police officers within the Iraqi police departments now and we may have to look elsewhere in other Islamic countries for example.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, if popularity of the police is a criterion you are going to use, you are going to have a tough time because the whole region out there is characterized by autocratic regimes where the police are disliked, despised, and hated by everybody and the society who isn’t on top. This is no different than that. If you ask the average Iraqi do you like the policemen out here on the street, he is going to say of course not. If you are going to use that as a criteria , you might as well start over again from the beginning.

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: And you can get that same answer in Brooklyn if you ask, by the way…

MARGARET WARNER: What about Jim Dobbins’s point that the Iraqi police are used to certain methods that we would not consider?

MAJ. GEN. DAVE MEADE: I think that is exactly true and that has to be changed and some won’t make the grade just like some didn’t make the grade in Haiti but a lot of them are re-constructible, if that is a term that will work here, and can move on and can learn from good people such as these international police monitors from all over the world that we had in Haiti.

EUGENE FIDELL: My concern, Margaret is that….

MARGARET WARNER: Go ahead — very briefly.

EUGENE FIDELL: You can’t expect people, police officers from Denmark or Holland, for example, to be the beginning, I think, of a police force within the new Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry, gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Back again, thank you.