Policing Iraq: Legitimacy, Democracy, and Empire in a Developing State
By Jesse Wozniak
University of California Press, 2021, 254 pp.
An American sociologist interested in police and police reform, Wozniak took himself to Iraq to study the construction of a new police force in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in 2003 and the subsequent collapse of the internal security and police forces. His picture is partial—he conducted fieldwork only in Sulaymaniyah, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government—but it is damning. Given the militarization of policing around the world since the end of the Cold War, the Bush administration’s decision to assign responsibility for rebuilding civilian policing to the U.S. Department of Defense and its Iraqi military counterparts may not be surprising, but it was a recipe for failure. Citizens were viewed as enemies to be thwarted rather than protected. Recruits were trained not to be police officers but to merely look like them: good at marching in formation, incompetent at actual police work. Ultimately, Wozniak concludes that what initially seemed like a bug was in fact a feature of the training programs. The “rejection of both best practices and scientific knowledge” of policing suggests that “the United States never had a fully formed democratic state in mind in the reconstruction of Iraq.”