I spent the morning attending a public event at the US Institute for Peace (again!) with the Iraqi Minister of Interior Jawad Bolani. You know how sometimes you go to events with public officials and hope that they will say something new or controversial, or perhaps slip up and say something unintentionally revealing?
Well, this wasn't one of those.
Bolani painted a generally rosy portrait of progress in reforming the MOI, speaking in highly general terms about improvements in the training, administration, and performance of the Iraqi police. He said all the right things about the rule of law, the need for professionalism, and so forth... exactly what you'd expect. He talked about how he began, upon taking office in June 2006, with a range of reforms aimed at improving services, building institutional capacity, and overcoming the corruption, sectarianism, weak leadership, poorly trained police, and so forth. That catalogue of challenges at least implicitly admits the staggering scale of problems in MOI detailed in American reports such as that by General Jim Jones last September which concluded that the Iraqi Police should be disbanded and rebuilt from scratch. Bolani seems to recognize the problems and to be trying to repair them, and as a USIP panel concluded in April has made at least some progress. The closest he got to controversy was when he hinted at the gap between his orders and the implementation of those orders - the perennial problem in these affairs - but didn't elaborate and wasn't pushed.
Questions failed to elicit much more. He offered few specifics on the extent and nature of purges of sectarian actors. Nor was he pushed to delve in any detail into the legacy of former Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr, whose success in turning MOI into a "dysfunctional" bastion of sectarian Shia militias was punished with an appointment as the Minister of Finance in Maliki's government. He declined to offer a date by which the Iraqi police might be ready to take over security responsibilities. Asked about the integration of the Sons of Iraq/Sahwat into Iraqi Security Forces, he spoke generally about hiring security forces in all regions and the need to provide jobs and opportunities. Asked about the impact of deBaathification laws, he pointed to the new Justice and Accountability Law which will have to provide guidance. Asked about complaints that the detention of Sadrists in Basra, Sadr City and Amara were intended to weaken the Sadrists ahead of the provincial elections, he insisted that all arrests were for security reasons and that the detainees would receive proper judicial attention. Asked about his views of and/or MOI preparations for a US withdrawal over 21 months, he spoke vaguely about the need to build on current progress. Asked about the negotiations over a long-term security agreement, he described the Iraqi negotiating team and expressed hopes for a constructive partnership with the US.
It was useful to hear the Iraqi Minister of Interior, who presumably has a reason to be in town right now, but I'm afraid I was unable to pick up anything really intriguing to pass on here. Perhaps others in attendance (including Paul Wolfowitz, I noticed!) picked up something interesting or novel in his presentation. If so, please chime in.