By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 2, 2008 - Lasting security in Iraq is one of the top challenges facing those in the country and one of the benchmarks for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, a senior military officer said today. One way to attain lasting security is through a well-trained and professional police force, Army Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon of the Michigan National Guard's 46th Military Police Command, said in a teleconference with online journalists and bloggers today.
Deployed to Iraq and assigned as the director general for the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Cannon oversees all aspects of training and building a national police force as well as local police forces, and it's a job that he said he is ready to do.
"I'm not new to law enforcement," said Cannon, who once was a county sheriff. "But this gives me a great opportunity to be a part of the major transitions that are going on in the country of Iraq in terms of public safety and security."
Some of those major transitions include defining the role of the Iraqi National Police.
"It's a great organization," Cannon said. "They fill the void between the Iraqi army and the Iraqi local police. They are like the Italian Carabinieri. They [have] a national role, and they are very quick to deploy and very agile."
The national police are engaged in a number of significant operations, and plans call for expanding the force by adding another division, which would bring the INP's total numbers to about 40,000 police officers. Cannon said plans also are under way to increase the entire Iraqi police force, including the local police, by more than 100,000.
But one of the biggest challenges Cannon faces in achieving that goal is finding people to fill those roles. "Force generation is going to be the biggest challenge," he said. "Getting the right people hired and getting them screened and vetted and getting them into the [police] academies."
One of the ways Cannon sees to fill those numbers is through the "Sons of Iraq" citizen security program, which has taken on the role of a beefed-up neighborhood watch program throughout Iraq.
"There is a concerted effort as part of the unification and reconciliation efforts to include the Sons of Iraq into the government of Iraq in a variety of ways," he said. "Some of them will be with security forces either with the army [or the police force]. There has been a great effort in making that happen."
No matter where the police recruits come from, once they have been accepted into the police force, they then go through one of 18 police academies. The training at those academies is conducted by a variety of coalition partners. Plans are under way to turn more and more of that training over to Iraqi leadership with a train-the-trainers model, Cannon said.
But lasting effects will require more than just a well-trained police force, the general said.
"The formula is not only that the police are ready to assume their role in providing for the security of this nation," he said, "but that the people are willing to accept them and trust them and have confidence in them and this idea and concept that we call the rule of law."
Cannon said he feels that progress is being made toward that end. "We have a poll that measures the confidence that the people have not only in their government but in their police, and I can tell you ... the trend is upward," he said. "It's going to, obviously, take awhile to get it to a level where we would all say that it is a success, but I can tell you we know where the [police force] began, ... and we already consider it a great success."
Even so, Cannon still faces many other challenges on a daily basis.
"This is just such a dynamic and fluid operation, and there is actually nothing you can plan for," he said. "Things are changing almost day to day. So, projections that we had made and plans we had hoped to implement last week, something in between now and then has changed, and we're constantly having to adapt.
"If you can imagine, how do you grow a police force this large in such a short period of time and try to overcome the obstacles that they have to face?" he continued. "Any large police department in the United States, if we had to double or triple or quadruple their size, imagine the problems that you would have to face, and that's what [the Iraqi police] are trying to do."
But for Cannon, part of the ability to overcome those obstacles comes from not only his more than 40 years of experience as a military police officer, but also from his more than 35 years of civilian law enforcement experience.
"Having been an administrator -- I was a county sheriff -- I can look at both sides of the [infrastructure and funding] issue, both as a provider and as someone that is requesting funding to provide those services. I think my experiences are going to serve me well."
Cannon said it is an exciting time to be in Iraq.
"Everything is going in the right direction," he said. "So it is an absolutely exciting time to be here in the country and see the differences in the eyes and the hearts of the people -- the things they talk about, the feeling they have for the future of Iraq. So for me personally, it's exciting to be here and be a part of that."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)