By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 6, 2007 - As individual Iraqi police officers and police stations develop throughout Iraq, the coalition is focusing more on developing infrastructure and organizational effectiveness needed to sustain the police force long-term, a U.S. officer involved in training Iraqi police said today. U.S. police transition teams have done a good job with the difficult task of taking fresh Iraqi police recruits, training them on police operations, getting them integrated as a group into a police station, and helping them become familiar with the community, U.S. Army Col. Mark Spindler, commander of 18th Military Police Brigade, told online journalists and "bloggers" in a conference call.
However, the police force is not being developed in a vacuum, but must work together with the rest of the Iraqi security structure, Spindler said, so transition teams are starting to focus more on developing the Iraqi police force's ability to sustain itself and function effectively as a whole.
"It's not enough to have a police force; we've got to be able to sustain that police force," Spindler said, noting that development of infrastructure and informational management is key to the continuity of the Iraqi police.
The coalition also is pushing a recruiting initiative to get more Iraqi police on the streets of Baghdad, Spindler said. Now is a good time for that, because violence is down and people are more open to a police presence, he said, but there are continually logistical challenges to adding additional forces.
To prevent problems with corruption that have plagued the Iraqi police force in the past, the coalition is encouraging community leaders to meet with police leaders and talk about the needs of the community they will be serving, Spindler said. Also, the coalition is trying to make sure that police forces are recruited out of their own communities, to prevent any cultural clashes, he said.
This philosophy of engaging the local community in the security process has been a lesson the coalition has learned through experience, Spindler said. Too often in the past, the coalition has tried to enforce a Western idea of what is right, instead of listening to the Iraqis and what they think their needs are, he said.
"I will tell you, sometimes it's frustrating," Spindler said. "We don't understand why, or it makes no sense to us why, they want to do the things they want to do, but nevertheless, culturally it's what they want to do. And I will tell you, ... what we have found in our small programs, be it at the station level all the way up to the very top, that no matter how involved we are, if there is not Iraqi buy-in into the program, it's going to fail."
The improved security situation throughout Iraq has encouraged more Iraqis to accept the police and security forces and also has allowed coalition forces to give more control to Iraqis and let them develop their own solutions to problems, Spindler said. More Iraqi citizens are going into police stations to seek assistance or make complaints, and concerned local citizens are stepping up to assist security forces, he noted.
Logistics continue to be a challenge for the Iraqi police, as the coalition encourages them to look for their own solutions to problems before asking for help, Spindler said. The Iraqis are at a disadvantage, because the government there tends to be run as a hierarchy, so it isn't easy to get supplies and equipment down to lower levels quickly, he said. However, in the provinces that have been turned over to Iraqi control, there has been an increase in fiscal responsibility, as they are taking charge of their own problems.
Spindler acknowledged that a lot of work needs to be done in developing a sustainable Iraqi police force, but he praised the efforts of the transition teams so far. They have met with "tremendous success" so far and are committed to seeing the effort through, he said.
"This is simply young lieutenants and captains and sergeants going in there and sitting around the table with these Iraqis, who also don't have a whole lot of answers, and coming up with a common answer," he said.