Perceptions of Security and Police in Iraq:
Baseline Survey Findings
(with Olga Aymerich)
The International Organization for Migration and Yale Law School's Center for Global Legal Challenges (April 2020)
This report by IOM Iraq and Yale Law School Center for Global Legal Challenges aims to shed light on the inter-related security and governance factors at play in three diverse communities in Iraq – Jubeil (Anbar), Hamdaniyah (Ninewa) and Baradiyah (Basra) – as a way to contextualize and evaluate the effectiveness of community policing programming. This baseline study evaluates civilians’ attitudes and behaviors towards providers of security and justice; their perceptions of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government; police officers’ attitudes and behaviors toward civilians; and the prevalence of crime and violence. The study finds that communities directly affected by the ISIL crisis perceive the greatest relative improvement in security, while governance and economic issues are at the top of community concerns across all communities. The survey results also indicated heavy reliance on informal actors such as tribes and religious leaders for informal mediation and dispute resolution. Additionally, in all three communities, a majority of respondents would not allow female family members to report problems to the police on their own.
Protests, Repression, and Varying Perceptions of Local and Federal Security Forces in Iraq
In Iraq, trust between citizens and the state, including police, has been damaged repeatedly both by the abuses of the former dictatorship until 2003 and by several waves of insurgency and civil unrest since then. Distrust of the Iraqi police undermines public safety, effective governance, and democracy. When citizens distrust or fear the police, they are less likely to report crimes and other problems to state authorities and they may not feel comfortable fully exercising basic human rights including freedom of expression and movement. Despite efforts to reform Iraq’s state security apparatus since 2003, success has been limited and some security forces and state-aligned militias continue to engage in excessive violence against civilians and other abuses of power most recently during the repression of anti-government demonstrations in 2019-2020. This article presents original data from two waves of cross-sectional household surveys conducted in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in July-August 2019, before the onset of major demonstrations, and in December 2019, after the repression of protesters to examine changes in public opinion toward police and other security forces over time. The two waves of surveys were conducted as part of an assessment of a six-month community policing program. Despite evidence that the community policing program may have improved public opinion toward local community police officers who were not involved in repression of demonstrations, there were significant increases in concern about arbitrary arrests and violence against civilians by federal Iraqi security forces, which may reflect the involvement of federal police and anti-riot police in violence against protesters. These divergent findings illustrate the difficulty of reforming a multi-faceted state security apparatus in which different security actors—local and federal—vary significantly in their social ties to the communities where they work, professional incentives, training, and chains of command.
Can Community Policing Increase State Legitimacy After Conflict? Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment in Iraq
In post-conflict and post-authoritarian societies, public distrust of state security forces is a barrier to stabilization and effective governance. Previous research suggests that community policing programs can promote trust and cooperation between state security forces and civilians, thereby increasing state legitimacy, but knowledge gaps remain. First, the trust gap between police and civilians is a two-sided problem but previous research has focused heavily on civilian attitudes due to the difficulty of surveying police. Second, there is a need for more research on causal mechanisms through which community policing may promote attitudinal and behavioral change. Third, there has been very little research on community policing in Iraq, which is a particularly challenging case for police reform—and therefore an important case to study—because of its history of authoritarianism, the strength of non-state actors that are more powerful than the central government in many areas of the country, and repeated insurgencies since 2013 including by ISIL, which remains a threat despite being expelled from Iraqi territory. Historically, many Iraqis have viewed the Iraqi police and other security forces as instruments of state repression rather than as providers of justice, security, and rule of law. Widespread distrust and fear of the Iraqi police undermines public safety, effective governance, and democracy because it discourages citizens from reporting crimes and other problems to state authorities and from exercising their civil and human rights including freedom of expression and movement. This multi-method study leverages a quasi-experiment created by the expansion of a community policing program—implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Iraq's Interior Ministry—to assess the program’s effects over a six-month period on public opinion toward police as well as local security comparing three treatment communities and nearby, demographically similar comparison communities. In addition to quantitative data from cross-sectional household surveys conducted before and after the program, the study also includes qualitative evidence from interviews and focus groups with both police officers and civilians in a larger set of 13 communities where the program was implemented. I triangulate between these different sources of data to explore five possible mechanisms through which community policing might increase state legitimacy: (1) inter-group contact, (2) procedural justice, (3) state capacity, (4) democratic deliberation, and (5) collective efficacy. The study provides suggestive evidence that community policing methods can improve relations between civilians and state security forces while also identifying significant challenges and questions for future research.