Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Jesse Wozniak's "Policing Iraq"

Jesse S.G. Wozniak is Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Policing Iraq: Legitimacy, Democracy, and Empire in a Developing State, and reported the following:
Summary of page 99: Students and trainers alike at the Sulaimaniyah (Iraq) police training center discuss the high levels of education and physical fitness they believe are of central importance to those who would like to join the force. These interview excerpts are offered as evidence of the message police personnel are receiving regarding their role and the functions they are asked to fulfill. These desired recruit qualities speak to the powerfully originative role police play (and will continue to play) in the shaping of the young Iraqi state. Similar in many ways to American police training, where technical discussions are emphasized over basic principles of law, democracy, or basic human relations, this focus on the physical requirements and aspects of the job sends a clear message of what is considered “real” policing and serves to marginalize the myriad other activities police will be called on to perform.

In this case, the page 99 test is moderately successful. This page obviously omits a great deal of the study, but would give the reader a fairly accurate understanding of one key argument. The overarching argument of the book is that the United States did not even set out to create a democratic police force in Iraq, but instead one that would prove useful in their drastic restructuring of the Iraqi state and economy, most centrally ensuring continued access to oil and the forced implantation of extreme neoliberal economic reforms. The priorities offered by interview respondents demonstrate some of the central problems with both the design and implementation of the reconstruction of the Iraqi police force. While high educational standards sound great, the reality of policing in Iraq is that the job is more often seen as a last resort of desperation. So while there are some highly educated police, most are people who have no interest in being police officers but only joined to escape still-pervasive unemployment. One respondent argued that a common piece of advice given to the homeless is to go join the police because they’ll accept anyone. The emphasis on physical perfection and domination, while similarly as unmet among recruits as were ideal educational standards, reveal many of the problems with the very conception of policing found in the US-instituted training regime. In a democratic police force, physical abilities should be dwarfed in importance by interpersonal skills – the ability to talk to and understand a wide swath of community members, de-escalate situations, and the like. However, in the training of Iraqi police, such skills are virtually unheard of, as are any discussions of the plethora of new rights guaranteed by the new constitution or really any discussion of the rights and responsibilities of police in a constitutional democracy. Rather, police are clearly designed to be essentially an auxiliary army, rooting out subversives to prop up the fledgling, US-backed government and its dictates.
Visit Jesse Wozniak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue