BAGHDAD – A struggle between Iraq's political factions is sowing divisions in the country's security forces just weeks before the last U.S. troops depart, as Iraqis rely on a unified force to hold the country together and suppress extremist violence.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a member of the majority Shiite sect, has in recent weeks accelerated measures to purge the Iraqi forces of anyone who served in the intelligence and security services of the former Sunni-led regime of Saddam Hussein.
Dozens of Sunni officers were expelled last month and more dismissals are planned, according to interviews with officers and copies of decrees viewed by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by the Interior Ministry.
While some of the Sunni officers were accused of serving in Hussein's "repressive apparatuses," some were simply called on for "early retirement," and others were dismissed under vague accusations of associating with terrorists.
In another move that shook the Iraqi security services, Maliki -- the acting interior minister -- ordered the arrests on Oct. 23 of what he said were "many" army and police officers among more than 600 people accused of plotting to overthrow his government.
At the same time, Maliki is delaying appointments to top posts that oversee the security forces, now almost one-million strong including the army and police.
Maliki continues to run the ministries of defense, interior and national security himself or through party and sectarian allies, contravening an agreement with Sunni-dominated and Kurdish political blocs that formed the current coalition government more than 10 months ago.
With the U.S. departure imminent, any new fissures in the security services will make it harder for Iraq's army and police to keep the peace and defend the country's borders.
Yet the prime minister's moves have triggered countermoves by his Sunni political rivals that are threatening to further fragment the country. The leaders of Salahuddin Province, a predominantly Sunni area north of Baghdad, said last month they would begin the process of becoming a semi-autonomous region -- complaining that, among other things, they wanted to be better represented in the security services, both in rank and file and executive positions.