February 9, 2008:
U.S. Army chat rooms,
message board and listservs are filling up with stories of troops returning for
their second or third tour in Iraq and being amazed at how quiet and peaceful
the place has become. Those outside the wire (working among Iraqis) a lot
notice this most, and they quickly pick up on the main reason; the cops seem
more confident and sure of themselves. Those who were around in 2004 and 2005
saw the first new Iraqi police units, and it was not a pretty sight. With few
experienced police commanders, and most cops newly recruited (the Saddam era
police could not be trusted, and most were corrupt as well), there were, in
effect, no police. Except in the Kurdish north (where an effective local police
force had existed since the 1990s), most of Iraq depended on tribal leaders,
gang bosses or militia commanders for protection from the growing Sunni Arab
terrorism, and crime in general.
Year by year, however, more cops, and
police commanders, were turned out by police schools in Iraq and overseas. The
Jordanians were particularly useful. Jordan has one of the most efficient
police forces in the Arab world, and were eager to see law and order return to
the Iraqi side of their mutual border. A Jordanian police academy for Iraqi
recruits was set up early on.
But a lot of the newly recruited police
and commanders quit. Some were forced to quit by Sunni Arab, or even Shia Arab,
terrorists, who opposed the formation of a democratic government. Many police
were fired, for incompetence (including running away when faced with danger) or
for selling out to gangsters, terrorists or warlord militias. But year by year, there were more competent,
reliable (if not always incorruptible) police. Iraqis in general were getting
tired of the violence, and more civilians supported the police (with tips, or
just a smile).
If an American soldier had been away
from Iraq for a year or two, the difference was often striking. Many
neighborhoods, that had been violent and hostile (for everyone) two years ago,
now looked, well, normal. Most parts of Iraq now had their own local SWAT and
emergency response teams. Hospitals were working, and ambulances were equipped,
staffed and in running order. The police patrol, direct traffic and generally
keep order. While the destruction of most of the terrorist organizations has a
lot to do with this, the major reason is better police leadership at all
It's often been trial by fire. Despite
the bribes and death threats, lots of Iraqi police have stood their ground.
About 14,000 have died in the last five years. Over half a million have been
recruited to achieve the current force of 200,000. In effect, by process of
elimination, and hard fought experience, the Iraqi police entered 2008 with a
force that could, well, police.
Lots of cops are still corrupt, but
much less so when it comes to terrorists. Getting someone out of jail, or
disregarding a chop shop or smuggling operation is the kind of corruption most
often encountered. But looking the other way while terrorists do their thing.
No, that is rarely tolerated inside, or outside the force. Part of that's
self-reservation, but a lot of it is just better, more experienced, leadership.