By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP AL QAIM, Iraq, June 13, 2006 – A Marine Corps police transition team is working here to equip and train Iraqi police. While there are many obstacles to surmount, there are signs of progress, U.S. officials here said. When Marine Maj. Robert Marshall, the officer in charge of the Police Transition Team here, arrived in April, there were two half-built police stations and three or four officers. Now there are hundreds of police on the rolls and officers to lead them.
The coalition team has 17 members split between U.S. military active-duty and reserve personnel and civilian police officers from the International Police Liaison Office. "The PTT team is a guide to help the Iraqi police stand up and be an effective force in the area," Marshall said. Unlike Iraqi army soldiers, police officers must be recruited locally. Iraqi men have stepped forward in this predominantly Sunni area to serve. Once selected, police recruits go to a 10-week training academy in either Baghdad or Jordan and report back here.
The Iraqi police are the true local security force, Marshall said. "Most of them live within walking distance of their stations, which is what makes them so dangerous to the insurgents, because they know who doesn't belong in their neighborhoods," the major said. "When something goes wrong, we have no clue what's going on out here, and they are tapped in." But there are many obstacles. Most police squads do not have adequate vehicles, radios or gear to be effective, Marshall said.
Fallujah and Ramadi -- key cities in the area -- get the lion's share of resources in Anbar province. Qaim has a lesser priority, U.S. officials said. The goal in the area is for 2,000 Iraqi police. But a 40 percent literacy rate in the region cuts the number of potential recruits and makes that goal difficult to achieve. The Iraqi army is more established and drains the pool of recruits even more, officials said. A saving grace is the good working relationship the police team has with the U.S. Marine Military Transition Team in the area and with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines -- the coalition security force in the region.
Pay is another problem for Iraqi police. Interior Ministry officials are working to deal with the problem, but often the money just doesn't arrive, U.S. officials said. Marshall said the transition team members thought they would be working to help the police learn investigative techniques. But for the most part, the team is working to strengthen logistics and "giving moral support." There have been disappointments. Marshall said local police have been left waiting for high-frequency radios, digital cameras and ammunition.
"Yet, with all the problems, we still have hundreds show up for work every day," he said. "This is their home. They tell you what it was like here two years ago. They don't want it to be like that again. "They want us to leave too, but they understand they can't do it on their own. After the al Qaeda nutcases they had to deal with out here, they certainly prefer us to them."
Marshall said relationships count for everything out here. "The last time I was out with the (Iraqi police), I slept in their barracks rather than come back out here," he said. "It showed that I trust them. "You need to let them know you trust them so then they trust you back," he continued. "When things are down -- they are not getting paid, they are not getting uniforms, they are not getting equipment -- and they know you actually give a damn about them, then they will stay and keep with you.
"If they think you don't care," he added, "they'd be out of there the next day."