Iraq’s fledgling police force, completely reformed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, on Monday marked 90 years since its foundation at a time of raised sectarian tensions due to a political standoff.
The force, which has apologized for acts committed during the rule of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, held ceremonies in major cities such as Baghdad and Basra, after the army marked their 91st anniversary with a huge parade in the capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone on Friday.
However, official claims that Iraq's security forces are capable of maintaining internal security, if not defending its borders, have been dealt a blow, with insurgents having carried out two major sets of attacks since U.S. forces completed their withdrawal three weeks ago.
Bombings on Thursday targeting Shiite Muslims in Baghdad and southern Iraq killed 70 people, after a wave of attacks in the capital on Dec. 22 left 60 people dead.
The violence comes amid a row that has pitted the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed political bloc.
Iraqi authorities have accused Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, of running a death squad, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, calling for his deputy to be sacked.
U.S. forces dismantled the Iraqi security forces after toppling Saddam in 2003 in a move later panned for having put hundreds of thousands of men with military training out of work and creating a recruitment pool for insurgents.
Interior ministry security forces, made up of city, oil and federal police as well as border enforcement officers and the facilities protection service, now number around 650,000, according to government figures issued in October.
But even with their high staffing levels, multiple reports have assessed they do not inspire public confidence and are unable to secure Iraq’s cities and towns without help from the army.
On Sunday, the interior ministry issued a statement apologizing for past acts of police forces during Saddam’s rule.
“Security forces in the interior ministry apologize for the practices that took place during the former regime,” the ministry said. “They were forced to carry out practices that were not their duties.”
Despite the apology for past acts, Iraq’s security forces -- the police and army -- still regularly face criticism from rights groups for heavy handedness, random arrests and abuses.