By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 24, 2008 - U.S. advisors are working with Iraq's Interior Ministry to move the Iraqi police into a "primacy role" in securing urban areas, a coalition training commander said yesterday. The Iraqi army currently works alongside coalition forces in providing security for most of Iraq's major cities and towns, army Col. Chris Fulton told military bloggers during a conference call. Fulton is chief of staff for the Directorate of Interior Affairs, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
Under the command's joint campaign plan, the Iraqi police will develop the capabilities to gradually assume the responsibility for safeguarding these areas, Fulton said.
"Nobody wants the army in the cities," he said. "You want police in the cities. You want [the] army conducting defense of the nation, not defense of the neighborhood."
Toward that end, MNSTC-I trainers and advisors work daily with the police force and Interior Ministry officials to improve both capabilities and support functionality, Fulton said.
He identified four main areas where the coalition is supporting the police: force generation, training to operate independently with minimal coalition assistance, development of a professional and non-sectarian force, and logistics. Similarly, Fulton said, his team supports the ministry staff in managing budget and finance, strategic planning, and administration, among other functions.
The goal is to make Iraqi security forces self-reliant "so we can come home," he said.
With close to 400 percent growth in the police force over the past several years, the ministry has experienced growing pains, Fulton said.
"You can imagine a very large corporation grows by 400 percent – you've got to have the administration and all the pieces that facilitate that," Fulton said. "We help them with that."
Logistics remains a perennial trouble area for the Iraqis, Fulton said, due to their unique system. He said his team is working to streamline and maximize benefit from the Iraqi model.
Other concerns include sectarianism within the force and questions of sectarian bias in dealings between the ministry and provincial police forces, but Fulton said he does not perceive any favoritism at work, and in general the force is actively engaged in establishing the rule of law.
"The Ministry of Interior, at one time, had kind of a shady reputation," Fulton said. "That has long since passed."
A major remaining challenge, Fulton acknowledged, is deconfliction of the battle space when operations by the Iraqi army, local police and national police occasionally overlap. Lack of central control has at times led to confusion, the colonel said.
Despite obstacles, overall the force is moving toward a goal of "police primacy," Fulton said.
"You can imagine right now in Iraq – at least for the past few years with the counterinsurgency battle going on – that the police have not taken center stage. The army have taken center stage, rightfully so," Fulton said. "Now, we've got to look beyond that as we gain stability and security, with the police rolling back into a primacy role, particularly in the urban areas."
(Tim Kilbride works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)