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The Baghdad Beat

Iraqi police assume greater responsibilities.

12:00 AM, Sep 17, 2008 • By ERIK SWABB
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Driving through Baghdad, it is impossible to miss a city on the road to recovery. Restaurants that used to be shuttered are open for business. Weddings are on the rise. People are walking the streets at night. It is easy to see the major reason for this rebirth. U.S. and Iraqi forces blanket the city, providing round-the-clock security to residents. Yet, a key transition looms on the horizon: The protectors of the people are changing.

During the "surge," U.S. forces primarily worked with the Iraqi army, but thanks to the decreased violence, the army is now in the process of transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi police, which have yet to prove themselves. Fortunately, U.S. forces have a methodical approach to facilitate this transition that is showing positive results.

The Iraqi government wants to free up army units for missions against remaining pockets of terrorists and to prepare the military to protect the country's borders, and the government is looking to the police to provide security in the capital. This transition is needed, but it poses challenges.

First, the police do not have a great reputation from Saddam's era, unlike the well-regarded army. Although the police were generally not an instrument of oppression, they were under-manned and under-funded, often resorting to corruption and abuse. Crime only remained low due to the totalitarian nature of the Saddam regime.

Moreover, after the invasion, U.S. and Iraqi officials mainly directed resources to the army. The police are still trying to catch up. Many policemen are on duty with only one or two weeks of instruction due to the rapid expansion of the force. Another difficulty is the inferiority of the police equipment. The army has heavy weapons and up-armored humvees, while the police typically have just AK-47s and pick-up trucks. As long as the police do not face well-armed fighters, this equipment is sufficient. But if insurgents mount an attack, the police would need help or suffer heavy casualties.

Leadership is another area of concern. The police, like the army, are an all-volunteer force and must compete for the best and brightest in Iraq. As the more prestigious institution, the army has an advantage in bringing in high quality recruits and officers. The Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of the police, also poses problems. Sectarianism and general incompetence have wracked the Ministry for years. Although the current leadership is cleaning house, poor management still undermines U.S. training and assistance.

However, U.S. forces are taking a methodical approach to developing the police. The 18th Military Police (MP) Brigade is responsible for training, advising, and assessing the police within Baghdad. According to the brigade commander, Col. Mark Spindler, the ultimate goal is to move from "order and law" to "law and order," as the capital slowly ends martial law. The brigade fields 12-man Police Transition Teams (PTTs) to fulfill this mission, which includes MPs, an international police adviser (a career civilian police officer), an interpreter, and, if needed, subject matter experts in areas such as intelligence and logistics.

PTTs are assigned to specific police stations and visit them regularly. On-site training focuses emphasizes the rule of law, and PTTs also learn to inspect checkpoints and accompany Iraqis on some of their patrols. A monthly evaluation by PTTs then rates stations in 15 categories, including force protection measures, investigative procedures, detention operations, and logistics. Coalition resources are directed to those stations most in need. The best stations assume security responsibilities from the army first.

For the first time, the police are benefiting from a close partnership with U.S. combat brigades, which was critical in improving the Iraqi army. U.S. soldiers now conduct joint operations with the police. "Iraqis look at U.S. troops and want to be better," says one international police adviser. The combat brigades also teach policemen about basic soldier skills, like weapons handling, room clearing, checkpoints, and first aid.