World and Nation

Independent U.S. Panel Urges Purging Corrupt Iraq Officers

An independent commission established by Congress to assess Iraq’s security forces will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shiite militants suspected of complicity in sectarian killings, Bush administration and military officials said Thursday.

The commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones, the former top U.S. commander in Europe, concludes that the rampant sectarianism that has existed since the formation of the police force requires that its current units “be scrapped” and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization, according to one senior official familiar with the findings. The recommendation is that “we should start over,” the official said.

The report, which will be presented to Congress next week, is among a slew of new Iraq assessments — including a national intelligence estimate and a General Accountability Office report — that awaits lawmakers when they return from summer recess. But the Jones commission’s assessment is likely to receive particular attention as the work of a highly regarded team that was alone in focusing directly on the worthiness of Iraq’s army and police.

Its harsh indictment of a key institution in Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki’s government is likely to be seized on by Democrats in Congress and other critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy as further evidence that a fundamental shift in U.S. policy is required.

However, a new attempt to disband an Iraqi force would also be risky, given the armed backlash that followed the U.S. decision to dissolve the Iraqi army soon after the invasion of 2003. Bush administration officials were briefed on the report this week, and they said on Thursday that they were studying its recommendations as part of a strategy review that will include testimony next month from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.

Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said that a U.S. effort to retrain the Iraqi police forces was underway. Morrell said that Pentagon officials believed that such an effort could succeed in removing sectarianism from the ranks without the requiring a complete overhaul of the Iraqi force.

“We’re not giving up on the Iraqi National Police,” Morrell said, adding that the United States and al-Maliki’s government were “both committed to seeing it through.”

According to several administration officials, the Jones commission also reached largely positive conclusions about the Iraqi army’s performance since the start of the new security strategy in Iraq — a sign, several officials said, that a determined U.S. effort to remake Iraqi institutions holds some promise of success.

The officials who agreed to discuss the commission recommendations did so in some cases because they believed that disclosing them publicly would help defuse their impact and focus attention on the Petraeus-Crocker report. Members of the commission and their aides declined to speak about the report on Thursday.