As the security situation improves in Iraq, the Iraqi army is handing security of the cities to the local police in seven provinces.
Iraq’s parliamentary Security and Defense Committee revealed Jan. 20 the readiness of the military command to hand over security duties to the local police in seven provinces in the center and south of the country. This follows a debate in the National Security Council Jan. 8, headed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, on the transfer of security duties from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Interior.
Earlier, concrete steps were taken on the ground in some provinces. On Jan. 9, the Diwaniya province police announced that it started taking over security control from the Middle Euphrates Operations Command as of Jan. 1. In turn, the Diyala police command confirmed Jan. 3 that this year would witness a transfer of the security duties across all provinces without exception.
Security has stabilized across Iraq’s cities, as indicated by the decline in bombings and attacks, after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq on Dec. 10, 2017. Hisham al-Hashimi, a security expert at Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies, believes this is the moment to speed up the transfer of security duties to the police and withdraw army troops from the cities back to their barracks.
He told Al-Monitor, “The joint Iraqi forces have improved their capabilities and achieved great victories in urban areas and peripheries. A positive security transformation has occurred since the joint operations command united the efforts of operations and units of all armed forces and intelligence command. This has made the deployment of army troops in the stable provinces unjustified. Army troops should be stationed in military camps as a reserve force.”
Hashimi said that Najaf, Dhi Qar, Maysan, Diwaniya, Muthanna, Babil and Wasit would witness this transformation. “The operations command of Basra and Karbala and the capital Baghdad will still fulfill its duties until 2020, when the security functions in these provinces are reviewed given the specificities of these provinces and their touristic, political and economic conditions.”
He added, “Army forces are currently in Anbar, Baghdad, Ninevah and Diyala. The anti-terrorist forces are in their camps inside each province. The Baghdad operations command is not part of the joint operations command and is directly subordinated to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. We have suggested that the army withdraw to the Baghdad belt, and this is what we are doing now in the Ninevah, Tigris and Anbar operations.”
The Babylon police chief, Maj. Gen. Ali Kowa, told Al-Monitor, “The expected success of the transfer of the security duties to the police is due to the declining crime rates and terrorist acts in cities, especially in the south.”
He noted, “The police command completed a security plan in Babylon to tightly control the security situation. We informed the Ministry of Interior that we accept assuming the security duties provided a series of technical and logistical conditions are met. These include the activation of the intelligence services role, a safe and fast exchange of information, the equipment of police and security forces with modern communication and early warning systems.”
The details of the new plan revealed by a member of the Security and Defense Committee, Nayef al-Shammari, to Al-Monitor indicate that “the first phase of the transition process begins by handing over to the local police the security duties in seven provinces in the center and the south. The second stage includes the capital Baghdad. In the final stage the police forces would assume security in the western and northwestern provinces, where some areas are witnessing the elimination of IS remnants by ground forces and operations commands.”
Shammari said, “The operation will ultimately enhance security in every Iraqi city, with three defensive units — the local police, the federal police and the Iraqi army. This is a solid plan that strengthens the role of the police and assigns the army troops to protect the country’s borders.”
But parliamentarian Falah al-Khafaji has a different opinion on the transfer of security duties at the present time. He warns of the fast transfer of security duties from the defense authority to the local police in the provinces, amid the local governments’ influence and flagrant interference in the work of these security units and institutions.
He told Al-Monitor, “The police units will be under the influence of officials and influential parties that will exploit them to implement personal and partisan goals. The solution would be a decision by the prime minister or by the Iraqi parliament to amend the law on provincial councils so as to keep the Ministry of Interior away from the power of local governments before the transfer of the security duties.”
If the transfer of security duties proves to be successful, Ahlam al-Watifi, a member of the provincial council of Babil, believes it would have positive repercussions. “These include most notably curbing the militarization of society and allowing the army units to train and rehabilitate soldiers and upgrade mechanisms to ensure the protection of the Iraqi borders from any imminent risk,” she told Al-Monitor.
She added, “The security transfer should be coupled with the deployment of combat troops from the Popular Mobilization Units in the peripheries of cities to deter any surprise terrorist attack. Meanwhile the handover to the local police and federal police of security duties in the capital would allow the Baghdad operations command to be fully dedicated to protecting the capital walls and uncontrolled desert highways connecting it to the provinces of Diyala, Anbar and Babil.”
The commander of Rafidain operations, Maj. Gen. Ali Ibrahim, told Al-Monitor that the year 2019 would witness a full control by the Ministry of Interior on security departments in the cities. He said, “The course of the security events clearly indicates that army troops will withdraw to their camps. Their duties would be limited to defending the country from any external military intervention, deploying in open areas and supporting the border guards.”
He added, “This is a turning point in security that ushers in a state of stability and the return of civilian life to the cities, instead of the long drawn-out militarization manifestations.”