Acting in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi relieved a senior officer of his duties after it was established that the unit under the officer's command was implicated in a flagrant violation of human rights.
Such obvious violations serve the agenda of pro-Iranian militias seeking to embarrass the prime minister and discredit him in the eyes of the Iraqi public.
A video clip showing elements of the Law Enforcement Brigade assaulting a teenager who was arrested in Tahrir Square, where hundreds of people have been protesting and calling for reforms to the political system for months, went viral in Iraq.
In the video, members of the Law Enforcement Brigade are seen erratically shaving the teen’s head with a cutter -- injuring his scalp in the process -- and brutally kicking and insulting him.
The video shocked the public. Social media activists immediately launched a campaign under the hashtag “Law enforcement force violating the law,” and called on the interior minister to resign and for the officers and troops involved to be held accountable.
The Law Enforcement Brigade was formed under former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to confront the widespread popular protest movement that erupted in October 2019. Activists have documented many violations committed by members of this brigade, including repeated attacks on the protesters.
Security sources say the force is composed of officers and elements of interior ministry that have records of human rights violations. Abdul-Mahdi's government brought these known offenders together under one force to ensure they would mete out the highest degrees of cruelty on demonstrators.
Observers considered the latest assault a major test for Kadhimi as it will ascertain whether or not he would be able to purge the security services from corrupt elements, or from those loyal to pro-Iranian militias.
Kadhimi’s spokesman, Ahmed Mulla Talal, acknowledged that there were members of the security services who were not loyal to the state and were not enforcing the law, referring to individuals planted by pro-Iranian militias at the interior ministry.
The interior ministry announced that the prime minister “had ordered an immediate and accurate investigation” into the incident of the brutal treatment of the arrested teen, and that Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi is personally following up on the investigation.
The ministry revealed that “the individual who appeared in the video being assaulted is detained by the anti-crime directorate in Baghdad (…) for stealing a motorbike and in accordance with the decision of the investigating judge at Rusafa Court,” confirming that “his assault by the law enforcement personnel took place about twenty days following his arrest.”
The ministry further clarified that “the plaintiff’s statements (also the victim, a juvenile in this case) were taken and he seeks to lodge a complaint against the perpetrator(s) of this heinous, immoral and unprofessional act.” It made it clear that it had “identified the perpetrators of this criminal act and that they had been arrested by investigative teams, and are now detained for the needs of the investigation and for the purpose of taking the necessary legal measures for the full completion of the investigation and then presenting the results to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.”
Because the commander of the law enforcement unit was found guilty of poor leadership and control of his unit, the interior ministry stated that Kadhimi had ordered for his case to be referred “to the General Command and an assessment of this security forces formation be conducted."
"This force is supposed to have been formed to strengthen the rule of law, preserve human dignity, fight all aspects of law-breaking, and serve as a protective umbrella for our honourable citizens, by selecting only the elements able to achieve those goals," the ministry said. "It was not meant to be itself the tool for breaking the law and assaulting citizens in that horrible manner that has nothing to do with the glorious past of our security forces and disrespects the blood of our martyrs and our wounded, who have given their lives for the sake of the security and stability of our decent Iraqi citizens.”
In Iraqi military jargon, relieving an officer of their duties means freezing their activities until their retirement.
Observers believe that the presence of corrupt, abusive and pro-militia elements is not limited to the Law Enforcement Brigade, but is widespread in all services and departments of the ministries of interior and defence, national security agencies and intelligence services, which would pose an enormous challenge to Kadhimi if he were to attempt to conduct a purge.
Influential parties and militias provide cover to many corrupt officers, helping them up the administrative ladder to take high-level positions.
Observers note that such infiltration represents a major weapon enabling parties and militias to act against Kadhimi in person, as the Iraqi prime minister struggles to build security and military capabilities ready to implement his plan to take back the state, which has been hijacked by rogue weapons.
Security sources have revealed that many senior Iraqi officers provide militias with accurate information about their colleagues who are loyal to the state and committed to carrying out military orders respecting the chain of command.
At the same time, the latest storm kicked off by the assault on a teenager might represent a golden opportunity for Kadhimi to launch a massive weed out campaign in the security services, where he is likely to enjoy wide popular support.
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