Gallup Poll of Baghdad: Iraq's Police -- Now Targets Themselves -- Are Key to Security

by Richard Burkholder, International Bureau Chief

Security remains the most urgent concern in Iraq. Virtually all (94%) of those interviewed for Gallup's landmark poll of Baghdad residents said the city is now a more dangerous place than before the invasion, and nearly as many (85%) believe anarchy would result if the United States were to pull out its troops "any time soon." However, while coalition troops can provide a measure of assistance, the ultimate key to resolving Iraq's immense internal security challenge rests with Iraqis themselves -- in the form of a reconstituted police force.

The occupation's opponents know this, and now view Iraqi police as important strategic targets. Since July, nine police stations have been struck by bombings, and several other attacks have been narrowly averted. Eight police officers died in a series of coordinated attacks on Oct. 27, when suicide bombers struck police stations in four Baghdad districts, as well as the local headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The following day, a car bomb detonated near a police station in Fallujah.

The process of rebuilding and reforming Iraq's police is one of the coalition's most pressing challenges. Before the occupation, Baghdad had more than 50,000 officers. They were poorly paid, corruption and brutality were rampant, and the regime encouraged a focus on political "crimes."

Following the invasion, the city's police force was in disarray. The officers who chose to return to work were overwhelmed by a rising wave of random shootings, street crime, kidnappings, and carjackings. They worked without a fully functioning judicial system, and often without squad cars, communications gear, or weapons other than simple sidearms. Even in early July, it was possible to tour the city for hours without encountering a single police officer. Though not anarchic -- at least during daylight hours -- the city appeared to be, quite literally, lawless.

Forty thousand police officers are now on the force in Baghdad. Equipment and training are being provided, and $5 billion of the $18.3 billion recently allocated by the United States for Iraq's reconstruction is earmarked for security. But for the police themselves, security is arguably more tenuous now than when they found themselves outgunned by criminals in the wake of the invasion, as they are increasingly being targeted as "collaborators" by opposing forces.

Baghdadis' Top Security Recommendation: Expand Police Presence and Capabilities

Gallup asked the city's residents to describe, in their own words, what actions they think should be taken to improve security and safety in the city. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the responses referred to a need to expand the presence and capabilities of police in the city, while less than 1% indicated a desire for increased patrols by coalition troops.

In addition to more police, some Baghdadis also see the expansion of governmental and judicial capabilities as integral to the improvement of safety and security in the city. One in five respondents (20%) said that establishing an elected Iraqi government would improve security, while 10% mentioned establishing an effective and powerful court system. Nearly as many (8%) suggested establishing an independent interior ministry.

Only a handful of respondents cited activities in which coalition forces -- as opposed to Iraqi police -- might be presumed to play a direct role. These responses include expanding border patrols to reduce infiltration into the country (2%), and increasing the number of checkpoints, particularly on access roads leading into the city (2%). A small number of Baghdad residents (4%) also mentioned rebuilding Iraq's own army as a step that could lead to improved safety and security.


How bad is the security situation in Baghdad, and to what extent has it affected the daily lives of average citizens there?

Eighty-six percent of Baghdad's residents told Gallup that there had been times "within the past four weeks" when they or a member of their household had been afraid to go outside their home at night for safety reasons. In addition, 60% said there had been times during this same period when they were afraid to go out during daylight hours. Asked whether similar fears had existed during the final two months leading up to the coalition invasion last spring, just 8% said this had been the case at night, and just 3% had felt such fears during the day.

On the other hand, relatively few respondents reported that their households had suffered a home burglary (3%) or a physical attack on a family member (2%) since the invasion. Similar percentages reported that their households had been victimized by such crimes in the two months prior to the invasion (2% for home burglary, 1% for physical attack). Furthermore, just 4% of Baghdad residents had had dealings of any sort with the police within the past four weeks.

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