By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 7, 2007 – Iraq's police force is seeing incremental improvements across the spectrum of its mandate, and the communities it serves are benefiting as a result, an official with the U.S. police training mission said yesterday. Tangible gains have been made in the police force's relationships with the Iraqi ministries of defense and justice, judicial capacity is on the rise, corruption is being pursued internally, and the training program is continuing to expand, said Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, deputy commander of the Civilian Police Training Team, in a conference call with online journalists and military "bloggers."
The result is that day-to-day life in parts of Baghdad and Anbar province has improved dramatically in some cases as recruits continue to enter the police academies and enhanced police vigilance helps settle neighborhoods, Phillips said.
Looking back on 2004 to 2006, the general noted, "Anbar was an absolute combat zone. That was about as down and dirty as you could get. But now they've rallied together."
Referring to the recent bloom of cooperation between security officials and tribal sheikhs, Phillips said, "They're allowing their sons to go to the academies and train to be police officers, and they have their local groups, which are basically like community watch groups."
Results have come quickly as the local populations tire of the al Qaeda presence, Phillips said.
"They're working hand in hand with the Marine forces out there and the Army forces that are out there," he said. "They're turning in the insurgents. They're turning in caches of weapons. And I have to tell you that commerce is working, the stores are back open, and you get small kids on the streets now waving as you go by in a humvee."
Similar environmental changes have been seen in Baghdad, the general said, where the casual presence of people on the streets in some neighborhoods indicates a positive shift in how residents gauge the security situation.
"The fact that families were letting their kids play there again shows that there is some faith in the fact that these police officers are out there," Phillips noted.
There is a lingering distrust of the police in some sectors due to past experiences of corruption, he admitted, but vigorous oversight within the force is helping reduce the problem of "bad cops," Phillips said.
"Are there bad policemen?" he asked. "Every department has bad police officers. Are there more here than other places? Well, we've got some problems. But the internal affairs organization is working ruthlessly to capture them and take them into custody."
Phillips emphasized the Iraqi force is on par with any peer police force around the world. However, their potential is temporarily held in check by levels of insurgent violence they were neither trained nor intended to face, he said.
While the coalition and Iraqi army face down the insurgency, institutional progress is helping smooth the Iraqi police's operations, Phillips said.
Past friction with the ministry of defense has alleviated somewhat in recent months, with an agreement reached that located the Al Anbar-Habaniya Iraqi Police Academy on the same land as the 1st Iraqi Army Division Headquarters.
"That there is a big step in and of itself that the army and the police are starting to work together," Phillips said.
That the academy functions, he said, is a big step for the Iraqis. While Civilian Police Training Team advisors provide oversight, "the instructors are all Iraqi (and) the administration of the academy is Iraqi," Phillips said. "This is an Iraqi-run academy on an Iraqi military installation."
Like the relationship with the ministry of defense, the police's cooperation with the ministry of justice also has improved, Phillips said.
The criminal justice system has added capacity to address the backlog of untried cases, he explained, describing the development of a "rule of law" complex in Baghdad that would combine detention and trial facilities in order to speed the process of judicial review.
What remain outside of the police force's purview for now, Phillips said, are the political situation and sectarian tension in Baghdad and elsewhere.
"Baghdad is a crossroads where you have Christian, you have Kurdish, you have different sects from Sunni to Shiia, and wherever you have that, we see that you can have flashpoints," the general observed.
"That's why there's such an emphasis going on with our search here to try to get a reconciliation between the groups, such as we saw in South Africa years ago," he said. "We're waiting for those senior leaders to come forward and do that handshake."
(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)
Article sponsored by criminal justice online leadership; and, police and military personnel who have authored books.