Inspired by a comment at Belmont Club.
The Concerned Local Citizen (CLC) program in Iraq:
CLC is the over-arching name of the country-wide program of empowering local citizens to defend and engage al-Qaeda and others fighting against the state (i.e. insurgents). They are a local militia, in the spirit of pre-US Civil War militias, often paid by MNF-I. (link)
At ground level the CLC program consists of logistical, supply and training support offered by MNF-I to local militia forces in places that are not well-served by the Iraqi National Police or the Iraqi Army. The Anbar Awakening was a CLC operation. So too with the other Awakenings in Diyala, Salahadin, Adhamiya and elsewhere. The success of CLC operations, after more than a year of hard development work, has been spectacular, with the damage to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations being great enough that violence in October has fallen to levels not seen in Iraq since 2004.
There are complaints that MNF-I, by arming and training the primarily Sunni Awakening Councils against Al Qaeda, has created a spearhead that might form a Sunni revolution against the mostly Shiite government. The question of whether these Concerned Local Citizens groups will turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing must be answered.
The questions concerning the value of CLCs assume that in the future there will only be two legitimate native armed groups for the entire nation of Iraq. The Iraqi Army is mixed Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, and the occasional “other.” The Iraqi Police are Shiite. Two national security organizations for a country is extremely centralized, and I would say dangerous to liberty.
In comparison, the United States has the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, BATF, Secret Service, Customs Agents, Border Patrol, U.S. Marshalls, Air Marshalls, FBI, CIA, DEA, Park Rangers, some other federal police agencies, State Police, Highway Patrols, County Sheriff’s Departments, Corrections Officers, and City and Town Police forces and SWAT teams, just to name the publicly funded armed groups. Do City Police revolt against the national government? How about the others? There may be turf battles, but it doesn’t break out into armed insurrection.
It seems to me that the Iraqis could profitably split up the monopoly of violence so there is less opportunity for collectivization. Tribal Police, Village Police, Neighborhood Watches, City Police, Corrections Officers, Provincial Police, and various types of National Police could all have overlapping fields of responsibility. All Police forces would need to adhere to certain national standards for recognition, but centrally mandated standards should be minimal.
It would be best to prohibit specifically sectarian forces as counterproductive.
There is a legitimate concern specifically about tribal police forces and how they would administer impartial justice. Wouldn’t they favor their own tribe against others in an injust way? Might they not favor revolutionary and other dangerous organizations?
The answer is that corruption is always a problem with police. Locales that depend for revenue on speed traps and other xenophobic tomfoolery drive visitors away until less predatory policies are enacted. Even the most egregious offenses of corrupt police officers in the historical US, such as direct officer participation in KKK lynchings, while horrible, have been corrected over time by legal oversight and civil rights legislation. It’s a long road, but a road that can be traveled successfully.
And the bottom line is that the closer a police force is to the residents of a place, the better it is trusted and the more it can secure against malcontents and criminals. And the more resistance the competing police forces will offer to any plans to consolidate national control in the hands of a dictator.