Thursday, January 31, 2008

Iraq. Old vs New Army, Old vs New Police

Iraqi National Police, Iraqi Army, U.S. Army (big dog in this photo...)
Conversations with the locals from time to time have led me to muse about the changes these two organizations are dealing with. The Army clearly had its own identity and culture prior to our interventions. The Police likewise.

Today my sergeant and I listened to the lamentations of an Army Colonel we both admire. He's getting worn down, feeling like he's fighting an ocean of corruption, and that he might need to get out before he gets smashed up against the rocky outcroppings along the shore.

He has to work with folks who want to do it "the old way" or are intent on taking as much money out of the system as possible. His leadership, rather than resource his requests to conduct training, bill him- "if you want X number of instructors, you need to pay us X millions of dinar". That is a sure way to make sure nothing gets done- where is he supposed to get this money to pay off his leadership?

They also fuss at him about such things as how he names his training academy. They tell him he needs to rename it- back to the name it had back in Saddam's day. Other little things like uniforms and similar issues are from time to time outward signs of an underlying tension of folks not being comfortable with the changes.

No one really likes change. In our business world there's a whole "change management" consulting industry- we need to make the business case for change, reveal the burning platform, get buy-in from key stakeholders, yadda yadda yadda. It is no different in the police and army organizations we are working with here. But there are the added complexities of the culture clashes between the various international groups intervening in the Iraqis' organizations as well. The changes are not always well-planned, resourced, etc- no one will win any major awards here for best practices in change management- it is hard, dangerous, chaotic, and riven with corruption. But change is inevitable. We're just trying to manage it in the direction we'd like it to go.

I'm working through another Iraqi culture text, "Republic of Fear", and it is helping me understand more of the incredible challenges the public and the police face in seeing the police as a force that protects the interests of the citizens rather than political figures. The "police" of the previous years were entirely oriented around preserving the power of a select few, and as such, the police were an instrument which paid no heed to laws in any way that we'd understand them in the U.S. So while much of the fear and concern about the National Police here has been brought about by their actions during the past few years, it appears to me that even more of their negative reputation is a byproduct of the work of the police for quite a long time before we got here.

The old and the new- National Police cadre in the digital blues, and National Police recruits in old Iraqi Army special forces uniforms
In some ways, we are working to make the police into the exact opposite of what they were before. The rule of law is something entirely antithetical to what they represented and worked for at one point. There are some substantial challenges to such changes. And buy-in here typically means something more understood by crime bosses- bribes, pay-offs and protection money. So the road has been, and will continue to be long and hard, with many IEDs along the way.

Dennis Steele wrote about some of our efforts in February's issue of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) magazine (imaginatively titled "Army Magazine"). The Numaniyah work gets most of its attention in the last 3 pages or so.

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