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Iraq: U.S. Senators Urge Bush To Seek Foreign Police Expertise In Iraq

A series of recent attacks in Iraq culminating in this week's bombing of the UN in Baghdad has popped the lid on a frightening security situation. Washington is now pressing major nations to send troops to help stabilize and rebuild Iraq. Among the most urgent needs, experts say, is a European-style constabulary force, such as the Italian Carabinieri or French Gendarmerie, to help with policing.

Washington, 22 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-led coalition put on an amazing display of military prowess when it took just 21 days to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But in the nearly three months since U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat over in Iraq, winning the peace has not been so easy.

One reason is police -- or lack thereof. Coalition military forces stunned the world with their swift capture of Baghdad. But after the war they faced an entirely different job -- policing, maintaining order, and winning the trust of the Iraqi people.

France's Gendarmerie or Italy's Carabinieri have those job skills. U.S. combat soldiers don't. And some in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere say the lack of an effective paramilitary police operation is largely to blame for Iraq's spiraling security crisis.

"The American troops that are there, the U.S. military, have an entirely different set of skills and abilities," says Norm Kurz, a spokesman for Senator Joseph Biden. "Like most soldiers, they know how to make war. Their job is to break things, if you will. It's an entirely different role and job to be a police officer. And you find Americans now in the role of protecting banks, of protecting schools, standing out front, standing guard -- and it's a role that they are unaccustomed to fulfilling."

Biden, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel wrote a letter to Bush after the 19 August bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. The senators urged Bush to "internationalize" the Iraqi situation by enhancing the UN's role there and, in their words, "recruiting additional military and police forces from other countries, particularly from our NATO allies, to improve the precarious security situation."

The lack of better policing was potentially behind the UN bombing, which killed at least 23 people, including special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. U.S. investigators said yesterday that they are focusing on the possibility that the unidentified attackers were assisted by Iraqi security guards who worked for the UN in Baghdad.

A senior U.S. official told "The New York Times" that the security guards were part of Hussein's secret services but were nevertheless retained by the UN after his ouster. A UN spokesman in New York suggested that it was premature to speculate on the story.

Biden, Hagel, and other members of Congress have been urging the Bush administration for weeks to consider making an effort to persuade more countries to send paramilitary police forces like the Italian Carabinieri and British military police, which have already proved effective in some areas of Iraq.

Italy, which backed the war, has sent 2,800 troops, including 400 Carabinieri who are helping to maintain order in Basra and Baghdad.

Major General Tommaso Ferro is a military attache with the Italian Embassy in Washington. Ferro talked with RFE/RL about the Carabinieri, whose skills have been honed in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Africa, and Afghanistan.

Ferro says that the Carabinieri combine the fighting skills of a soldier with advanced policing capacities.

"The capacity to deal with a situation [that is different from] direct combat; a situation in any, let's say, urban environment: police activities, in controlling the territory, in controlling people, in controlling smuggling, in controlling any kind of crime, and prosecuting crimes and so forth. If you combine that specific capacity with basic military training, you have a Carabiniere," Ferro says.

One problem for U.S. troops in Iraq, Ferro says, is that since they are combatants, they tend to move in armored vehicles and be isolated from the people. He says this is natural for forces that are trained to fight and have just conducted a war.

But Ferro says the classic Italian paramilitary has a much more hands-on approach with the local populace.

"They are in contact with the population. They relate with them, they perceive what is taking place in a situation and you can call this a basic, elementary intelligence in the situation. So they can anticipate facts and things, or they might be good in searching where the threat is coming from," Ferro says.

Those are precisely the skills that are needed in situations of postconflict reconstruction, says Frederick Barton, a former deputy UN high commissioner for refugees and a foremost international expert on rebuilding war-torn societies.

As a U.S. aid official, Barton oversaw development projects from Bosnia and Haiti to the Philippines and Rwanda. Like Iraq, he says these are the kind of situations for which neither the U.S. military nor the American police forces are really trained.

"That's why everybody says, whenever you're having this kind of conversation, 'Send in the [French] Gendarmerie, send in the Carabinieri, send in the [Spanish] Guardia Civil.' So that model exists. But you never hear them saying, 'Send in the Westchester County Police Force [in other words, any typical American police force],' " Barton says.

Part of the reason why Washington has so far not brought more European-style constabulary forces is because potential donors such as France and India first want the U.S. to share power with the UN in Iraq.

Barton, a Democrat, says that he also believes that civilian U.S. defense officials believed that the U.S.-led coalition could get through without such forces. He says they didn't expect it to be so hard, and that when it turned explosive, Washington didn't have the resources at hand to deal with it.

"I think at its core it's a misreading of the situation and a lack of any stand-by capacity," Barton says.

But the 19 August bombing, which followed attacks on Jordan's embassy as well as acts of sabotage against oil and water pipelines, has changed the dynamic.

U.S. officials say that some 19 countries are already contributing a combined 24,000 troops and police to the coalition in Iraq. They say other countries have already pledged to send a further 30,000 troops to add to the 140,000 U.S. forces and 24,000 mostly British troops of other nations.

Whether those fresh forces come through a new United Nations resolution in which the U.S. cedes some power to the UN or through contributions by individual countries to the coalition, many of them are likely to wind up in a police and peacekeeping role.

General John Abizaid, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, told a briefing at the Pentagon yesterday that such a move would free up American forces to return to what they do best: combating terrorists and the remnants of Hussein's regime as well as protecting borders from infiltrations of Islamic extremists from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

"As foreign troops come in, as other coalition [forces] come in, and as Iraqi forces become more mature, we intend to turn over some of the security duties, the internal security duties that we're currently doing, to them. And we'll adopt a more aggressive posture on external duties, such as borders," Abizaid said.

It is unclear when, or how much, Iraqi forces will be able to contribute to security efforts. Hussein's armed forces were destroyed or fell apart during the war. And while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday praised some 33,000 Iraqi police are who back on the streets after American training, they alone cannot tackle guerrillas who have launched deadly attacks on U.S. troops during the past several months. Sixty-four U.S. soldiers have been killed since Bush declared an end to major combat on 1 May.