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 Unification of Kurdish Peshmerga security forces: An escape from the civil war days

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Unification of Kurdish Peshmerga security forces: An escape from the civil war days  4.6.2012  
By Christian Chung - Rudaw

Kurdish Peshmerga security forces, Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq. Photo: UKS

June 4, 2012

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — As six separate suicide bombings in a northern suburb of Baghdad killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 50 last week, but life in the city of Erbil seemed to go on as normal. Security forces manned checkpoints throughout the city as they do every day, and some people on the street were barely aware of the turmoil in Iraq’s capital.

A Different Iraq

“I know only that there was an attack [in Baghdad], but how is that different from any other day?” lamented Mohammad Nuyob, a shop owner in downtown Erbil. “I came to Kurdistan from the [Arab areas] of Iraq, and security is much better here.”

The relative stability enjoyed in the Kurdistan region is in stark contrast to the weekly attacks experienced in the rest of Iraq.

The violence between Sunni and Shiite Arabs reached a peak beginning in 2006 with the bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, which set off car bombings, assassinations, abductions and summary execution of members of rival sects.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 4 million Iraqis were internally displaced, and tens-of-thousands of civilians were killed in the violence from 2006 till late 2007. At the same time, the Failed States Index, produced by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace organization, listed Iraq in the top five unstable countries in the world. The conflict died down only after Sunni tribes in al-Anbar provinces joined the government in its fight against insurgents and members of the al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The picture in the Kurdistan Region was always different. Many attribute the stability to the lack of sectarian divide in Kurdistan, as well as the uninterrupted operations of experienced governance and security establishments, that have been operating independently since 1991.

However, a major challenge to the future viability of this security is the attempted unification of the Kurdish security forces from the two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which dominates Erbil (Hawler), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), with dominance over Sulimani province. Until 2007, separate government administrations existed, with distinct policies and thus independent security establishments.

Healing Divisions

The process of integration is described as a “long process” with “some challenges ahead,” according to the Kurdistan’s Deputy Minister of Interior Jalal Karim.

Although technically unified since 2009, the Ministry of Interior has yet to be combined operationally and there are still elements reportedly functioning outside the main headquarters in Erbil.

The integration process to date is focused on physically relocating mid-level advisors, directors, and other staff to a single Ministry of Interior based in Erbil. There are also coordinated “exchanges” of law enforcement officials and senior security officers, as well as mayors and city administrators, between both districts.

“One of the challenges have involved the staff who were formerly Peshmarga fighters from the KDP Zeravani forces and the PUK forces,” Karim says. “This made it a bit difficult to be unified at first, but we have been working on this.”

A further challenge to the process has been the integration of high-level officials.

“The decisions about which officials are exchanged lie with the Minister [of Interior],” says Karim. “This is top down process, without a doubt.”

According to the Deputy Minister, the integration process is one element of a wider effort aimed at further professionalizing the KRG security forces. The ideal situation, he believes, is a situation in which the Minister of Interior’s orders are followed “in all parts of Kurdistan.”

“It means we will escape from the old days of division from the civil war…and not have any problems,” Karim says. “This process will automatically remove undue political influences. While I am a member of the PUK, when I became Deputy Minister of Interior, I do not listen to members of my party, because I have duties as Deputy Minister.”

During the process, the Ministry of Interior has unified Zeravani and PUK Defense Emergency Forces into one apparatus under the official title, the “Police Task Force of the Kurdistan Region.”

A joint committee in the Ministry assesses the progress of unification efforts through interviews and visits to security forces in the field. The committee members comprise individuals from both parties, as well as independent members.

The civil war between KDP and PUK forces from 1994 until 1998 was one of the main causes of the initial separation of the security apparatuses. This divide is now a significant hurdle for the Interior Ministry’s current efforts at unification.

Major General Baxtiar Baban, a Senior Military Advisor to the Minister of Interior, believes the integration process has already been completed for some time now. “Of course, reports that previous orders from the Ministry in Erbil were being ignored are politically motivated,” he asserted. “I am not a minister. I am not deputy minister. But I’ll call the head of security forces [in Sulaimaniyah Province] and he’ll be here in two hours, and not question why.”

“I will challenge anyone who denies that this has not been the case for the last three years,” he says confidently.

At a Crossroad for Security

Karim believes that the integration process will have a tangible effect on citizens. “The biggest difference that everyday people will notice has to do with the trust that will be built one high-level officials are unified,” he says.

The absence of bombings in the Kurdistan Region relative to Baghdad and other areas of Iraq provides a sense of permanent stability. But healing the fissures in the security forces and unifying the Ministry of Interior may only be the first step in a long process to ensure that this stability remains for the foreseeable future.

“Once the people recognize that the government is completely integrated,” Deputy Minister Karim says, “many divisions from the civil war will be healed and trust will be built—gradually.”

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