By Elaine Eliah
ERBIL, Iraq, Oct. 25, 2006 – Law enforcement is one of most urgently needed careers in Iraq, a country rife with insurgent, sectarian and criminal violence. The rush to recruit, train and equip the new Iraqi police forces has gone hand in hand with renovating facilities for offices, headquarters, and training centers, U.S. officials here said.
Since conflict began in Iraq in 2003, fatalities among police officers, many of these rookies or men still cueing to enlist, have topped 4,000.
One leader in the drive to build an effective Iraqi police force since 2004 is the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence. They've been involved with building, renovating, and upgrading Iraqi police recruiting centers, regional training academies, and nearly 200 provincial and local stations of all sizes.
"The 'Year of the Police' construction was and continues to be a tall order for contractors," explained Derek Martin, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq's northern representative. "Unlike other construction sites in Iraq, the police station sites are always in confined urban areas, which present a serious security challenge."
Under several different AFCEE task orders, U.S. contractor ECC has completed one recruiting facility, two training bases, and 16 police stations around Iraq. One such task order involved many of the urban security problems Martin sited.
In a 10-day period in the Quayarah area, eight roadside bombs were found or were detonated. Between March 17 and 26, 4 car bombs exploded near the Quayarah police station. The Iraqi police, aware that the station was being targeted, were able to prevent the car bombers from getting close enough to injure workers or to destroy the facility.
ECC worked with Iraqi-owned Delta Company on a $336,000 renovation of the Erbil Provincial Police Headquarters. The 5,000-square-meter building had to be completed under extreme time constraints, without interrupting police operations. With different police divisions using different floors of the three-story facility, the building was dividing in half vertically, allowing both units to continue functioning in one half while up to 120 laborers worked on the other side.
"The men earn double to work one and a half shifts, and we pay them daily," explained Nabaz Salah, Delta general manager. Delta is now working on $1.85 million Makhmur military base project with AFCEE and ECC. "We started out with just three engineers in 2003 and had 12 people working on our first $20,000 project."
Salah ah Din Provincial Police Station in Hawijah, a $440,000 renovation, was one of the most challenging for ECC and subcontractor ITG. The facility was constantly threatened by mortars and rockets, which were most likely intended for a higher value target - a U.S. military base next door. Soldiers stopped work several times after the base came under fire questioning workers at the police station and scrutinizing digital cameras used by quality control engineers.
"When the roads were closed to civilian travel, we paid $400 per day while the trucks waited," ITG General Manager Raad al Shamaa explained. ITG employed 10 security guards in three cars to escort deliveries into the site. "The police helped us out; they let all our staff sleep in the police station." Despite the difficulties, work finished three weeks ahead of schedule.
"Both MNSTCI/AFCEE and ECCI have developed a very good reputation of 'can do' with the various police chiefs," explained RL Lopez, AFCEE contracting officer's representative who is responsible for reconstruction of police stations in Iraq. "During my inspections in the northern region, several have stated, 'You are the first that have asked us if there is anything else we can do, and if we provide you with our list of items you will tell us what can be done and they will be done'."
Not all wish lists, however, could be fulfilled. In Balad Ruz, northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border, local police refused to allow subcontractors to begin renovation because they were demanding a completely new station be built. Though, more than once, compromises had to be negotiated, security considerations were always given first priority. Controlled entry gates, including vehicle inspection points were installed at many stations. Walls and guard positions were established, either on rooftops or by building guard towers.
Next on the AFCEE renovation priority list were utilities. Sanitation systems were repaired or replaced. Water tanks were critical in areas far from city water supplies. Generators were installed in all of the stations.
"The partnership AFCEE has with our contractors and their use of Iraqi subcontractors has provided a better working environment for Iraqi policemen," Lopez said.
A better working environment helps to make a stressful line of work a little less difficult and a little less life threatening, officials said. "In cooperation with AFCEE and the local military, ECC quickly executed their projects with minimal issues," Martin said. "This resulted in multiple new stations that will help the Iraqi police continue their progression towards law and order.
(Elaine Eliah is a freelance communications consultant who has worked in Iraq for over two years.)