By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 21, 2007 - Violence in Baghdad has been cut in half, thanks to a massive influx of new Iraqi police officers, a top U.S. military advisor said today. "Along with the surge of U.S. forces is also the surge of Iraqi police," Brig. Gen. David Phillips told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Baghdad.
As deputy commanding general of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Phillips helped stand up the Baghdad Police Academy in January 2004. Yesterday, he watched 744 brand new officers graduate from that academy.
"A community (in) which in the past we saw a significant al Qaeda presence now has concerned local citizens come forward (to join) the police forces," Phillips said. "You saw a lot of pride in these new police officers as they graduated."
An additional 1,000 Iraqi police officers are set to graduate in a few days at a temporary academy set up in Abu Ghraib, just west of central Baghdad.
"We're talking almost 2,000 new police officers ... within two months," Phillips said.
Applications to join Iraqi police forces far outnumber available positions, the general said, noting that nearly 6,000 Iraqi citizens applied for the two Baghdad-area academy classes.
"We're having no problem filling all of these slots," Phillips said. "If anything, we're turning away literally hundreds if not thousands of people in some areas who want to join the police forces."
In Anbar province, 3,000 new recruits were recently accepted, and in Diyala province, 5,000 students will soon begin police training, the general said.
"All academies are taught by Iraqis," Phillips said, noting that American troops offer only a support role. "The best instructors are Iraqi instructors."
Iraqi police applicants who are turned away are encouraged to join the equivalent of a "police auxiliary."
"We equip them with a cell phone, and they pick up that cell phone and use that cell phone and give us some very good actionable intel," Phillips said. "They are guarding their own community. They know who belongs and who doesn't"
Many Iraqis who once felt a strong sense of belonging in their neighborhoods fled because of death threats, the general explained, but thanks to a wider deployment of local police, that's changing in Baghdad.
"We are seeing a significant downward turn in violence," Phillips said. "And we are seeing some of the mixed communities coexist much better than they were about six months ago."
As a prominent example of police presence prompting exiled Iraqis to return, Phillips mentioned an influential Baghdad resident who was hired in 2003 to lead Iraq's police internal affairs division, but who was forced to flee the country with his family in 2005 amid insurgent threats.
"He said he watched from Jordan long enough, and it was his turn to come back and try to get things fixed over here," Phillips said. "That's one individual in a country, but I think he's just a representative of the tip of the iceberg with people coming back."