By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 24, 2007 - Thousands of additional Iraqi police officers must be hired if security is to truly take hold in Iraq, a U.S. military commander said today. "My No. 1 push right now is increasing authorization for police officers from the central government," Army Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baqubah. "Right now that is key."
Bednarek is deputy commanding general of operations for Multinational Division North. His troops have spent the past several weeks teaming up with Iraqi security forces to root out al Qaeda terrorists.
"It all gets down to boots on the ground," Bednarek said. "A lot of people are working this extremely hard."
In parts of the country like Ninewah province, where two Iraqi army divisions and a 23,000-strong police force are in position, violence is sharply down, and Iraqis are conducting many security operations without any coalition involvement, the general explained.
"That's what we're looking for. That's the future. That's the goal," Bednarek said. "Quite honestly, we're trying to work ourselves out of a job."
By contrast, in vast Diyala province, a single army division and 15,000 police are struggling to provide security. "They are woefully short of what they need," Bednarek said. "They need more boots on the ground."
So called "concerned local citizen" organizations, such as the Baqubah Guardians, have been very helpful in fighting al Qaeda, the general explained. He said officials hope that putting unemployed Iraqi men to work as professional police officers will ultimately secure the safety of the country's citizens.
"It gets back to trust," Bednarek said. "The people want to see the Iraqi security forces. They want to see their army, their police out in the neighborhoods."
Hiring additional police officers is the best way to hold on to security gains coalition troops have made in partnership with Iraqi volunteers, the general explained.
"At some point in time we need to bring them into the fold. We've got to provide them a job. We've got to give them a salary," Bednarek said. "For an Iraqi man, it is all about honor. They need an opportunity to provide for their family."
(David Mays works in the New Media branch at American Forces Information Service.)