Thursday, December 11, 2008

Counterinsurgency, Infrastructure, and the Rule of Law

About two nights ago (they kind of seem to run together, sometimes) we spent the evening with the Knights checking the occupants of local hotels. That is, we ran up, secured the street, secured the building, then brought all the guests downstairs for interviews and ID card checks while the Knights checked the rooms, primarily for people hiding.
I'm not going to critique the various TTP on display, that's for Knight and the Mungadai internal consumption. But, what struck me was:
How, exactly, does one impose the rule of law when civil infrastructure is almost zero?
The biggest infrastructure issue that we've bumped up against previously is the leave policy. At any given time, a quarter of the ISF is on leave. They take leave because, once they get paid, they've got to go home and pay the bills. No banks, no internet for wire deposits, no checking accounts, no direct deposit. The troops get paid in cold cash, and then go home to pay the bills and take care of Momma and give her enough money to get through until the next pay day. And, because ISF at some point have to devolve from a unit taking leave and going out the gates together to individuals splitting off to go home, the troops are often incredibly vulnerable when they go home, susceptible to ambush, kidnap, and assassination. My last deployment to Iraq (05), the Iraqi chain of command would mandate that the troops leave the base in uniform. The troops were afraid to even carry their uniforms off base in a shopping bag, so we had to constantly replace uniforms that wound up in a ditch somewhere between point A and point B.

The problem here and now, in Mosul, is that the National Police (for that matter, all the ISF) are trying to segue from military operations to a combination of military and law enforcement activities, with the goal being to end up having to perform only law enforcement. As the rest of Iraq settles down, the rule of law becomes more and more important. The Iraqi Government needs to enforce and--more importantly, follow--the rule of law in order to gain and maintain its credibility and legitimacy. The hard part is doing that in an area like Mosul, where there is little to no infrastructure. I'm defining "infrastructure" here as all the shit that happens back home that we don't even have to think about. The hotel checks were an object lesson in the friction between the rule of law and social infrastructure.
How does one verify an address when there are no addresses? An Iraqi will generally say something like "I live near Haifa Street, in Baghdad" or "I live near the Zangeli traffic circle." There aren't any building or residential numbers, and a lot of the streets are not named.
How does one check a phone number when landlines are virtually nonexistent? You can check a guy's cell phone call log (if he hasn't erased it), but so what, unless you know the numbers on the register. In the US, the police need a warrant to get someone's call history from the cell phone company. Here, they are striving for the same standard, but what is the probable cause for the warrant? That the guy looks fishy?
The police were suspicious of all the hotel guests; they were from out of town, and who the hell decides to visit Mosul now? One guy had a huge wad of cash--suspicious. But Iraq is a cash-only economy right now. One guy had numerous sets of car keys on him, and stated that he was in the business of buying and selling cars. The National Police (and the Coalition) have been hit hard by VBIEDs the last couple of weeks, and anyone with access to multiple cars needs to be thoroughly investigated. But investigation equals more than interrogation, and without a sound infrastructure against which to check facts, gathering evidence becomes problematic.
We often hear references that Mosul (or at least parts thereof) are "like the Wild West." That's especially true when it comes to law enforcement. However, there is a definite difference between the imposition of a lawman's will and what we would think of as the "rule of law." Let's not forget that the men who "tamed the West" would probably suffer some pretty bad PR these days. From a law enforcement point of view, the Iraqi National Police are walking a tight rope--while people are shooting at them.

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