By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 3, 2008 - Building an Iraqi police force is an enormous challenge, but the coalition-and-Iraqi team working to do so is making progress, a senior U.S. Army officer working with Iraq's Interior Ministry said today. Maj. Gen. Michael D. Jones, director general for interior affairs in Baghdad, said in an interview today that the Iraqi-led, Iraqi-planned operations in Basra pointed to both the successes and the setbacks in training the police.
The sheer size of the training challenge is daunting, he said. The Iraqi police forces have grown 400 percent since 2003. If the U.S. Army had undergone the same rate of growth, there would be 2 million active duty soldiers today.
"If that happened, you can only imagine the challenges we would have as an institution with not having enough equipment, not having the facilities for all those people," Jones said. "We might not have the quality of the force that we have today. We would be short leaders, and on and on."
The Iraqi Interior Ministry has had these problems and more. The Interior Ministry had a good portion of its management team taken away because of efforts to remove Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the government. The ministry had to be reorganized, because it was designed under the old regime with the sole purpose of keeping the regime in power, not of protecting the Iraqi people, he said.
Also, while the Iraqi army and national police are national assets – meaning they are recruited from around the country and can serve anywhere in the country – municipal police forces are local.
"They and their families are vulnerable to threats and intimidation," Jones said.
But he noted that the police have made progress. "Just the growth of the force is quite an accomplishment," he said. The coalition and Iraqi government are making good on equipment shortages, and the Interior Ministry is setting up a logistics system to supply the police.
"They have gone through a major reform effort, where they are trying to reform the ministry to one that becomes professional, and although there are still challenges, they are making progress," Jones said.
The operations in southern Iraq in the past 10 days illustrate the changes, Jones said. "About a year ago, the discussion we were having was how come Iraqi security forces can't get to Baghdad in order to participate in the surge?" he said. And the performance of the units that were showing up in the Iraqi capital – mostly National Police – was tainted by sectarianism.
"What we've seen in the events of the last eight to 10 days is the Iraqis – at their own initiative – making a strategic decision to confront a problem in Basra and rapidly moving forces down there," he said.
The Iraqi police managed to arrive in Basra in good order and almost immediately engaged in combat, Jones said. The Iraqi government was able to sustain the forces in the fight. "I am positive a year ago, that could not have been done," he said.
"Did they have problems? Of course," he continued. "They had significant problems over the past week, but the fact (is) that it was Iraqis in the lead overcoming those problems, and I have to give them a bit of credit for that."
Jones said the National Police performed very well in Basra.
"The feedback on the National Police units has been very good," he said. "They have fought very hard, they have been successful in their operations to include ... being cohesive through some very tough fighting."
In fact, some national policemen volunteered to stay with their units rather than depart for the monthly leave to bring their pay home, he said.
"The local police had a much more mixed result," he said. "There are some reports of police that fought, there are also some reports of police who have not and who left police stations and abandoned their duty stations."
Some police deserted and went over to the criminal elements. Some broke under stress. For others, discretion was the better part of valor and the smart move.
"They realized they weren't equipped or trained for the operation," Jones said. "They moved out of the stations and fought elsewhere."
In Basra, this combat test allowed people to see who was weak or complicit with militias or Iranian-backed "special groups." Interior Ministry authorities will get rid of policemen who were complicit or cowardly.
Leadership is a problem in all branches of the Iraqi police. There are not enough good leaders to go around, Jones said, and training officers for leadership roles takes time. The Iraqi Police College is a three-year, degree-producing institution.
Once the training is finished, it still takes on-the-job experience to produce good leaders, Jones said. In the U.S. Army it takes 15 years to develop a battalion commander.
"How long does it take to grow a police chief or station chief?" he said. "I don't know if there's an exact number, but I know it's a fair number of years to get somebody that kind of experience."