International Affairs Forum:
Would you describe the work that you’ve been doing with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) in Iraq?
Yes. Libra Advisory Group is contracted by the British government to provide advisory support to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, with particular regard to its management development, its internal disciplinary procedures and aspects of police capacity-building, working alongside the much larger U.S. ministerial reform and policy capacity-building effort in Baghdad.
You’ve been connecting various offices in the Iraqi MOI with their peers in the Arab world and Europe. Why is this important, and can you give us an example?
Ultimately the future of the Iraqi government, and government structures more broadly than the MOI, are tied up with its international relations, but most particularly with its regional relations. The republic of Iraq has received a huge amount of support since 2003 from the United States, from the United Kingdom and various other coalition members. But ultimately it’s its regional relationships that it’s going to need to rely on in the future going forward, for example with its neighbors, such as Jordan, Turkey and Syria, Kuwait, and with its wide regional neighbors, such as Egypt.
There’s a huge amount of technical expertise in Iraq. Iraq is a country with a high level of educational capacity, but for very obvious reasons, they’ve kind of been left behind a little bit in terms of some of the management processes at work in both the private and the public sectors. So it’s not a question of lack of basic capacity - it’s a question of modernizing the business processes by which they run their ministries and also companies. I would use the analogy, for example, East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall; East Germany also a country with great technical capacity and with a very coherent educational structure, but one where it essentially hadn’t moved with the times over the last 30 or 40 years. That’s pretty much where Iraq was in 2003.
Other countries in the region have modernized fairly successfully. There are a number of examples, but we encouraged the Iraqi MOI to engage with the Ministry of Interior of Egypt in the development of legal curricula, curricula for the training and capacity building of the officers who sit on their internal disciplinary boards. The legal system of Iraq and the legal system of Egypt have quite a lot in common. The Egyptians have responded well in that context, and also on assisting on management capacity and police training, as have the Jordanians, and we’ve received good support, or we have managed to facilitate good support from other regional neighbors.
In 2008, writing on security sector reform, you wrote that “local ownership is a core principal”. This raises the question of which local groups to engage with and who’s legitimate. Can you give us an example of how you’ve applied this in Iraq?
I think you’ve hit upon the key conundrum of local ownership, which is essentially which locals - particularly in a place where a political accommodation hasn’t yet been established and where even people who have come of power as a result or following a democratic process, a process of election, don’t necessarily enjoy wide legitimacy and seem to represent certain interest groups, rather than represent their organization or the society more broadly. If you’re going to undertake any form of security sector modernization in an environment like that, there has to be, to an extent, an acceptance that you’re involving yourself in a very complicated political environment. Through some of the actions you undertake, you’re going to strengthen some political players against some other political players. By changing some of the fabric or by helping to modernize aspects of the security sector, you have a political effect, because control of security forces is a politically significant enabler of political power. It would be naïve to think that any security sector reform anywhere in the world could take place without that having an effect on the political environment. It’s much more strongly a characteristic of security sector reform in an environment that’s gone through a massive political upheaval or through a conflict, and where the mechanisms to resolve political disputes though a political system aren’t yet in place.
I think you can minimize the extent to which you favor some parties over other parties through mechanisms. For example, through generating “project management mechanisms” which bring in a number of different local ownerships into the way projects are designed, managed and delivered. In Iraq we had a joint project management board, which was essentially a mechanism which involved the participation of both British officials, who were responsible for delivering the project, and Iraqi officials, who represented the department in whose area the project was working. Essentially we were talking about 15 senior Ministry of Interior officers, and they came from a wide variety of political or ethnic backgrounds. So through that mechanism, it was possible to avoid too much control or authority over the intervention strategy resting in the hands of one individual or one particular power group.
When rebuilding a country’s institutions, how much of a role do cultural norms play? For instance, in the last week of June, General Odierno [the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq] said that corruption around Iraq is fairly ubiquitous. If this is a cultural norm, how do Westerners work with that?
I think that cultural norms play a massive role, not just in security sector interventions, but any kind of international interventions. I think starting from a baseline, which essentially uses Western cultural norms as a starting point, is a mistake that’s very often made, and it’s very much a flawed methodology. Corruption is widespread in Iraq. It’s widespread in a number of different countries in the world, to the point where in many of those countries, practices which would be considered corrupt in the West aren’t actually considered corrupt. It’s just considered part of daily life, a sort of lubrication of society.
[T]o give another example in the security sector, all over the world, including in Iraq, there are lots of initiatives which talk about community policing and the idea that the Iraqis, the Afghans, or the Nigerians, for example, are looking to build a model of community policing. But sometimes mistakes are made in assuming that community policing is going to mean the same thing in the environments in which we’re operating. Frankly, policing might mean something very different in Iraq to what it means in Britain or America. So helping to generate a model of community policing firstly requires an understanding of what the cultural norm around policing is; secondly around the relationship between the police and the community, which is part of the broader relationship between the citizen and the state; and, thirdly, around what type of security the people want. So cultural norms do play a massive role in setting the scene for any development assistance effort. I think the best thing that we can do is probably start from the point of view that we don’t know very much, and every intervention needs to start with a long process of familiarization of what those cultural norms are before any action whatsoever is undertaken.
Following on from that, if local ownership and organic growth are vital for security services, how do you know the right time to pull out of a conflict zone? In other words, there are civilian advisors, such as yourself, and there are military forces and advisors. When you’re trying to hand over the security to Iraq, how does a foreign force know when to pull back?
I’m not a military commander. But if you undertake military intervention in a foreign country, you assume responsibility for the security of the population in that country. You’ve become primarily responsible for providing community safety. And you shouldn’t pull out until indigenous forces, particularly police forces, are able to provide security in that country for their own population.
One of the characteristics of Iraq is that the delivery of security by the Iraqi forces is quite a highly militarized one, for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the Iraqi army has been developed pretty much from scratch. It has a very strong military force. Secondly, because the international effort to redevelop Iraqi security was led by the American military and by the coalition military, who naturally brought a military paradigm to bear on what security was. And thirdly, frankly, because it’s much quicker. It’s easier to build a force of people who are trained to man checkpoints and undertake kinetic operations than it is to build a police force, which is a far more complex, nuanced set of activities that involve a negotiation of a contract between the community and the state. So that’s a rather long-winded way of saying the right time to pull out is when security can be maintained and justice can be delivered by indigenous forces, and without an ongoing requirement for international presence.
The Iraqi Minister of Interior, al Bolani, wrote an editorial in The Washington Post on June 30th, the day US troops were to be out of Iraqi cities. He titled his editorial, “Iraq: Mission Not Yet Accomplished”. He said, June 30th “is the beginning of a highly uncertain chapter in Iraqi democracy and self governance. [The Iraqi] trade minister resigned in May amid allegations of corruption that’s reportedly so widespread in Iraq as to be on the scale of a second insurgency.” In June, Bolani “was forced to take action against police officers accused of violating the rights of prisoners.” For all the money and manpower that’s poured into Iraq for over six years by lots of groups, for all the sacrifices on all sides, why is state-building so hard there?
Well, I would say, state-building is hard anywhere, in any environment. It was particularly hard in Iraq because the end of formal hostilities in 2003 clearly didn’t signal the end of hostilities. It was an ongoing, moderately intensive insurgency in many parts of the country, which I think massively inhibited the deployment of qualified civilian advisors and the type of state-building stabilization programs which could have helped to build proper government and governance institutions, both in Baghdad and in the provinces. Those were the kind of restrictive conditions in which the international community was operating. There was also a naiveté and short-sightedness on the part of the international community when it came to understanding how complicated the rebuilding of the Iraqi state would be. I think there was a sense prior to invasion that the Iraqi state constituted a set of functioning government mechanisms that would need reform or modernization, but would continue to function. I think that turned out to be relatively wide of the mark. The state-building effort in Iraq was one that really had to start pretty much from scratch, and in some ways from kind of a negative base in some cases. And part of our naiveté was driven by a sort of “short-termism” on our part – the need for us to move to a situation where, for example in the security sector, coalition forces weren’t directly responsible on a day-to-day basis for community safety.
Frankly, there were fewer sacrifices on the part of our own forces (British, American and other forces) which meant that a great deal of emphasis was placed on a generation of a large number of Iraqi police and military, without a thorough understanding that that requires a whole set of governance structures underpinning the existence of those police forces. If you put a policeman on a street corner with a gun, you’ve created the need for a very complex set of management mechanisms that are usually the role of a ministry, a ministerial structure and a government structure. And none of that is particularly to do with governance. A lot of that has to do with management – HR management, logistics management, planning, programming, budgeting and so on. What the international community wasn’t able to do, for a range of reasons, was deploy, in sufficient numbers, sufficient advisors and to program sufficient interventions to help the Iraqis rebuild or to build those structures from scratch. The lead agencies were military agencies, and frankly, they weren’t the right tool for the job.
In terms of governance more broadly, state-building more broadly, why is it difficult to build a state which in, for example, there’s a state audit function in order to make sure that line ministries behave or take proper responsibility for their finances? I mean, that’s just something which is very difficult, and all around the world has proved very difficult. If you look at the amount of money, for example, that’s being put into anti-corruption programs in, for example, Nigeria and other West African countries, for the effect that it’s had, it’s difficult to assert that we know very much about how to implement anti-corruption programs at all.
You advocate for a layered complex approach to security sector reform. It’s not just about putting police on the street or importing donor nation practices wholesale or policy making at high levels. What did Libra bring to the MOI that was missing, specifically?
I think we brought two things: first, very deep technical expertise and secondly, a consultative approach which is appropriate to stabilization and capacity-building programs in post-conflict or otherwise fragile states. We brought a consultancy team who knew a great deal about the technical aspects of running government departments. Now, those government departments may not be security departments. They might be ministries of agriculture or fisheries or of transport. But the fact is, all of those departments, as big companies do, require a range of very complex technical processes in order to function properly, in order to make sure that front line service delivery by those departments is backed up by proper managerial structures, receives the direction and resourcing that it requires.
I think the second thing that we brought was the experience of having done this, having built capacity and rebuilt processes in the range of other countries in the world. We’ve been active in Afghanistan, Sudan. We’re active in Palestine. We’ve done state-building and capacity-building across Africa. That’s not to say that Iraq is like any of those countries. But what is common to those countries is that fact that, as you say, going in and trying to import wholesale a range of Western practices into any country is a surefire way to fail. What we understand is the need for all initiatives to be not supported by the indigenous population or governments of those countries, but actually generated by, initiated by and driven by the officials and by the people of those countries themselves.
Along with local ownership, security sector reform is also about the political process. With the Iraqi national elections only six months away, how much pressure does the upcoming election put on your work at the MOI?
I suppose one of the key problems with our work - and I think one of its key flaws is - it wasn’t sufficiently connected into the kind of political-diplomatic effort in Iraq. I worked as a consultant to the British Embassy, and I spent a lot of time with the Ministry of Interior. I spent most of my time living at an American military base which abuts the Ministry of Interior, but I didn’t have routine access to the political analysis which takes place in chancelleries and diplomatic missions. I probably didn’t know the complexities of the political background as somebody in my position should have been, leading a technical implementation project. We were very much seen as the technical people, but the connectivity between that and the political, and the diplomatic efforts I think in the future could benefit from being greatly increased.
I think that the Interior Ministry of Iraq, as all ministries of Iraq, and as many ministries in many countries, are still highly dependent on the character of their leadership. However, I don’t mean the individuals’ character, but the nature of the leadership in terms of its political coloring, its affiliations and the power groups within the country that it represents. The Ministry of Interior has benefited from having stable leadership since 2007, in the sense that Mr. Bolani and his team have been in place. That’s allowed them to consolidate, both politically, but also technically, a range of policies which have led, I think, to a stabilization within the ministry and generated enough stability for it to start making progress on a technical level. I think if the election produces a very different set of leaders within the Interior Ministry, within the Iraqi government more broadly (the other line ministries), it’s going to have a very significant effect on the way those ministries are managed and developed. Now, we try to mitigate that potential for long-term effect by helping to generate a range of technical competencies at a technocratic, at a bureaucratic level, which we would hope would remain in place, even if the political leadership of the ministry changed. But there’s no guarantee that it will, of course, because unlike in the U.S. or the U.K. - where the senior political leaders will change, but the bureaucrats will remain in place - the changes at the top of an Iraqi government institution can lead to quite deep changes throughout many layers of the institution below.
Crime victims often go to their tribal leader or local militia, but not the Iraqi police. So in providing security sector reform, training and advise, do you figure in these key non-state actors?
The concept of non-state security and the security sector reform working with non-state actors is something that is one of the most discussed and most significant parts of the current security sector reform agenda, internationally and multilaterally. In many countries, the police aren’t the first recourse to people who consider themselves to be victims of crime. In fact, lots of Iraqi police officers told me when I asked them if they were a victim of crime would they report it to the police. They said the Iraqi police service was the last organization they’d report it to, and those were police officers themselves.
The ability to engage with non-state security and justice delivery in Iraq I think was very limited by factors that I’ve already mentioned, particularly the security factors on the ground. It was very complicated in Iraq, of course, because many of the non-state security and justice delivery mechanisms were also essentially constituted the insurgency, so that they were enemies that there U.S. and the coalition troops were fighting. The same could be said to be true, of course, in Afghanistan, where non-state security is largely provided by the Taliban and related groups. They also constitute the enemy. Now, clearly what happened in Iraq was a process whereby the enemy was brought in two instances, in the Fawa, the awakening movement, and the Sons of Iraq movement, within the statist security delivery camp, which clearly served a range of purposes: one, to remove the sting from the various insurgencies that were going on; and two, to populate the security forces with the people that were considered necessary in order to provide security for Iraqis.
In the long run, we might find that it turns out to be quite a dangerous policy, because I think there are a lot of Iraqi policemen whose loyalty may not lie with the Iraqi state or with the Iraqi police force, but may continue just by the fact that they’re now policemen to ally with the organization for whom they previously fought, the Sunni tribes or the Shia militia, in the case of the Sons of Iraq. So it was very difficult in Iraq. But I think in security sector reform more broadly, for example, the work that we’re involved with in a number of countries in Africa, that it’s recognized that dealing with security sector reform in a purely statist way is flawed and is limited, and you have to come back to an idea of what security means to the population. If security of the population doesn’t mean a policeman, but it means a tribal court or a village security mechanism, then it’s essential that those are engaged with. The difficulty for donors, of course, is that those non-state mechanisms are often very effective, they tend to be majoritarian in their outlook. They tend to look after the majority ethnicity or the dominant social group. So the Taliban, for example, can deliver security, education, and other services in a very effective way, but not necessarily in the way that we’d like to see them delivered. The challenge is really to reform that, rather than to ignore them and try to allow them to be superseded by state-led forces.
So if you were to hazard a guess, how effective will security be for Iraqi citizens in the cities this time next year? And what’s the top factor that could undo your work in the MOI?
There are two questions. One is whether the capacity of the Iraqi forces, both military and non-military, has passed that tipping point where they’re able to provide security in a well-managed and coherent way without the significant continued support of coalition and particularly American forces. I do have an opinion, but we’ll wait and see. And the other factor is a whole multitude of kind of external actors, including Iraq’s regional neighbors, including the ability of Iraqis to come to a negotiated settlement regarding the distribution of resources within their country, which fundamentally underpins efforts to being about political reconciliation, including the role of Iran and a whole range of other factors. Iraq is a very complicated place. If I was a betting man, I’m not sure I’d be placing any bets.
Thank you, Mr. Martin.
Alex Martin is a director of Libra Advisory Group and currently leads Libra’s implementation of a U.K.-funded program to build the managerial, governance and operational capacity of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.
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