POLICING & CRIMINAL JUSTICE
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.
Incarceration has become the dominant form of punishment in the United States and many other countries around the world despite the availability of more humane and less costly non-carceral alternatives. Given the heavy costs of incarceration both for offenders and society, there is a need for more empirical research on the question of whether incarceration is actually effective in achieving its purported objectives including the rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of former offenders. A factor that has been overlooked in previous studies of reintegration is public opinion toward former offenders in the communities to which they return. If community members distrust and fear former offenders, the resulting stigmatization makes it difficult for former offenders to rebuild social relationships and find employment, which then increases their risk of recidivism. Important empirical questions about the relationship between punishment and reintegration remain unanswered, of which this paper addresses one: How do harsh punishments such as long-term incarceration affect public opinion toward the reintegration of former offenders in comparison with shorter prison sentences and non-carceral alternatives?
We study this question in the context of Iraq, where the United States has been heavily involved in the design and development of criminal justice institutions since overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003. Building upon extensive fieldwork and interviews in Iraq, we designed an innovative survey experiment—a method developed in the social sciences but not yet widely used by legal scholars—that randomly varied the severity of sentences in hypothetical scenarios of nonviolent Islamic State “collaborators” (e.g. cleaners, cooks, and wives of fighters) to estimate the causal effects of punishment on attitudes toward reintegration. We find that a long prison sentence of 15 years does not increase the likelihood of participants’ willingness to allow the reintegration of former nonviolent offenders, but a non-carceral punishment (community service) has a small but statistically significant positive effect. Our strongest finding is that non-carceral, community-based justice mechanisms can significantly increase the likelihood of successful reintegration after punishment. Fifteen percent of respondents who were initially opposed to the return and reintegration of former offenders into their communities said that they would be willing to change their judgment and support reintegration if they were asked to do so by a tribal or religious leader, or if the offender completes a non-carceral rehabilitation program. Together, these findings suggest that non-carceral, restorative, and community-based justice mechanisms may be equally or even more effective than long-term incarceration for achieving the objectives of rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of former nonviolent offenders, with important implications for the design of evidence-based transitional justice processes in Iraq and other war-torn societies. Since Iraq is a particularly challenging case for reintegration given high levels of fear and anger against the tens of thousands of people who have been convicted of collaborating with the Islamic State, our findings are relevant not only to scholars and practitioners working in the fields of national security, counter-terrorism, and transitional justice, but may also offer lessons for criminal justice and sentencing policies in other contexts where barriers to reintegration of nonviolent offenders are not as steep. Our work highlights the need for more empirical research on the relationship between punishment and reintegration and we offer an innovative research design—one of the first survey experiments used in legal scholarship—that can be replicated in other settings including the United States to help answer important empirical questions about the causal effects of criminal justice policies.