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Iraq: Police Continue To Face Training Difficulties

Iraqi police at the site of August bombing in Baghdad (epa) PRAGUE, October 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The strengthening of Iraq's security forces has been one of the foundations for the U.S.-led coalition since the ouster of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003. While the ranks of the police continue to grow, they face numerous difficulties, such as being targeted by insurgents, being infiltrated by militia elements, and by some accounts being inadequately trained.

As U.S. forces continue to attempt to play more of a supporting role in security operations, the Iraqi police are now bearing the brunt of insurgent attacks. The U.S. commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team in Iraq, Major General Joseph Peterson, said on October 8 that about 4,000 Iraqi policemen have been killed and more than 8,000 have been wounded over the past two years in insurgent attacks, international media reported the same day.

"Policemen, national policemen, border policemen have paid a great price over the last couple of years here in Iraq to build the forces that are necessary to provide safe and secure environment to the people of Iraq ", Peterson said.

Earlier this year, a spokesman told congressional researchers that 1,497 Iraqi policemen have been killed and 3,256 wounded in 2005. The data indicates a steep increase in the casualty rate among Iraqi police.

Militia Infiltration

There have been widespread allegations that the police force, which is under the control of the Shi'ite-dominated Interior Ministry, has been infiltrated by militia elements that then use their position as policemen to carry out sectarian attacks against Sunni Arabs and other perceived enemies. Shi'ite Arabs belonging to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the affiliated Badr Organization largely comprise the police forces.

Iraqi police are frequently the targets of insurgent attacks (epa file photo)

In November 2005, U.S. and Iraqi forces found several secret detention centers run by the Interior Ministry holding hundreds of prisoners, many showing visible signs of abuse and torture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2005). The detainees were almost exclusively Sunni Arabs and the disclosure led to the inspection of roughly 1,000 Iraqi jails.

Earlier this month the Iraqi government suspended around 700 policemen from the 8th Brigade of the 2nd Division and ordered them to undergo retraining and vetting after allegations that some among their ranks were linked to militias and death squads (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). The brigade is suspected of allowing Shi'ite militias to kidnap 24 workers, mostly Sunni Arabs, from a meat-processing factory in Baghdad on October 1. The bodies of seven workers were later found in Baghdad, but the fate of the other 17 is unknown.

Although it is difficult to gauge how many militia members have infiltrated the ranks of the police, the "The New York Times" quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official on September 16 as saying that of the 27 paramilitary police battalions, "we think five or six battalions probably have leaders that have led that part of the organization [the police] in a way that is either criminal or sectarian of both."

Refurbished Baghdad Police Academy A 'Disaster'

The much-vaunted construction of the Baghdad Police College came under harsh criticism by the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, Stewart Bowman, in a September 28 report. He lambasted the $75 million project as being grossly mismanaged, saying some buildings were so poorly constructed that it posed health hazards for its recruits and instructors. Some of the problems were so severe that the facility may need to be partially demolished and then rebuilt.

The most serious problem was inadequate plumbing, which caused human waste from toilets and urinals on the second and third floors to spill over into the rest of the building and in one area at such a rapid rate that "the Baghdad Police College director refers to this room as the 'Rain Forest,'" the report stated. Furthermore, the leakage destroyed lighting fixtures throughout the facility and threatened the integrity of load-bearing slabs, making some buildings unsafe.

The Coalition Provisional Authority planned in 2004 to transform the college, a collection of 60-year-old buildings, into a modern training facility that would eventually house up to 4,000 recruits. The project was seen as a top priority by U.S. military leaders, underscoring the importance of an adequately trained Iraqi police force and their critical role in allowing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," Bowen said, "The "Washington Post" reported on September 27. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."

Signs Of Improvement

Iraqi and U.S. officials have noted that although problems remain within the ranks of the Iraqi police, there have been marked improvements. Major General Peterson said during a press conference on October 7 that currently there are 186,000 trained policemen, near the final goal of 188,000 and some officials even expect to exceed that number by 10,000 at year's end, AP reported.

Can Iraq's police gain the public's trust? (AFP file photo)

Furthermore, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said during a press briefing on October 4, that Phase 1 of the national police-assessment program, called Quick Look, which began early this summer to assess each battalion's capability and readiness, has ended. He said that Phase 2, which focuses on leader and police-transformational training will be initiated shortly and all Iraqi police units will have completed this phase by summer 2007.

Also, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has taken steps to change police uniforms in a bid to prevent gangs and death squads from masquerading as policemen to carry out sectarian attacks. Police commanders have indicated that imposters using stolen or counterfeit police uniforms have been responsible for many of these attacks and the uniforms are easily available in marketplaces in and around Baghdad.

Iraqi police Colonel Abd al-Munim Jassim stressed on October 10 that new precautions would be taken to prevent criminal elements from faking the uniforms, such as photographing policemen together with the number of the uniform, AFP reported on the same day, referring to a database that can track the serial number of the uniforms with photographs of the officers that wear them. If the uniforms are found in another location, then it will be known immediately that they were stolen.

Major General Peterson noted that the new uniforms were part of the overall strategy of strengthening and transforming the Iraqi police. "These new uniforms and also the new standard markings for the vehicles of the national police...begin the process of transformation", he said.

Arguably, the Iraqi police are in the best position to tackle insurgent elements with their close ties to the community and local knowledge. They are much more adept at gathering intelligence on insurgent activity in their community than an outsider. However, as long as the police, particularly in troubled areas, have a reputation for being brutal and having sectarian alliances, they will have difficulty in gaining the trust of the local population.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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