By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 16, 2009 - As the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq advances, efforts to build the nation's police force have made great strides, the team leader of the police training and advisory mission said last week. "The traction that we're getting is really impressive. It truly is a partnership," Army Brig. Gen. Michael Smith said during a Nov. 13 "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
Smith said Iraqi police agencies have impressed him with their growing abilities to recruit and train their own forces and run their own operations. He's also noted a dissipation of ethnic tension at top levels.
"The national police have gone to really extensive measures to balance their force so that it's not Shiia [and] it's not Sunni," he said. "What they're after is the quality of the force, and they've really installed a number of quality leaders at all levels that really take that seriously. And there's much more of an ethic and an ethos towards 'protect and serve.'"
The Iraqi police force structure differs from that in the United States, Smith said. Local precincts report to provincial police, and both provincial and federal police fall under Iraq's interior ministry. Thanks to growing stability, he said, federal police now are able to concentrate on counterinsurgency operations while leaving community policing in local hands.
Smith also told bloggers that a distinction exists in Iraq between regular policemen, who are called "shurta," and police officers. Officers undergo a rigorous three-year, post-high school training program that leads to a college degree and a commission as lieutenant. At the local level, Smith said, better vetting of the shurta is paying off.
"The system is pretty good now in terms of anybody that's coming in that has a troubled past," he said. "They really have improved the quality of their screening, and that's a good-news story."
For now, Smith said, the United States continues to provide support with transition teams composed of military police and some civilian police experts. The teams focus on teaching the latest forensic and analytic techniques, including collecting and using DNA evidence, and they work to improve acceptance of this type of evidence within the Iraqi justice system.
Smith cited more signs that Iraq is moving toward a fully functional, independent police force. More than 40,000 national police and some 300,000 regular officers and shurta are in service. That includes the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where police authorities are working in partnership with their Baghdad counterparts, he added.
Another achievement is this month's graduation of the first class of Iraqi policewomen. Smith said the 50 newest Iraqi police officers include attorneys, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists and other specialists who compose a "very impressive team of women that volunteered and wanted to become Iraqi police officers and to serve the people of Iraq." The next class of women is expected to double in size, he added.
(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)