Paramilitary: When In Doubt, Bug Out


January 18, 2006: The United States is adding 2,000 more trainers to the effort that is training a Iraqi police force. It's become obvious that American troops will only be able to leave when there are effective Iraqi police available to maintain law and order. Right now, too many of the cops are poorly led and corrupt.

Training Iraqi police to be effective maintainers of law and order is made very difficult because of the history of Iraqi police methods. For decades, the police maintained order via terror. For all but the most elderly Iraqis, that's all anyone has ever seen the Iraqi police do. So American efforts to create an Iraqi police force based on foreign models is seen, by many Iraqis, as just making a difficult job more difficult. Many Iraqis believe that the solution to Sunni Arab terror, is more terror from the police.

But some Iraqis have seen alternative approaches. The police in neighboring Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are much less prone to use terror and torture. Iraqis who have been to the United States report finding courteous, well mannered police who do not take bribes and are actually well mannered with civilians. Iraqis find this hard to believe, but between American TV shows and Iraqi-Americans confirming these strange tales, attitudes are changing.

Traditionally, Iraqi police operated on the principle of, "if we think you're guilty, you have to prove to us you aren't." The old time police also paid attention to tribal and religious leaders, up to a point. If the traditional leaders could not control their people, the police came in hard. The old school cops were also big on bribes. The more trouble you were in, the more if would cost you to walk away from it. Changing this has not been easy.

There are currently 80,000 Iraqi police, in uniform, armed and equipped with some training. Each month, a network of police academies and schools turns out over 3,000 more police. The plan is to have 135,000 police by the Spring of 2007. Right now, there seems to be little problem getting that many people on to the payroll, in uniform and walking the streets with guns and some basic knowledge of police procedure. Getting Iraqi police to maintain the peace in the face of well armed gangs, tribal militias, terrorist groups and religious organizations is less certain. There are effective police in the northern Kurdish areas, and many parts of the Shia Arab south. But in the middle, especially where no ethnic, tribal or religious group dominates, and too many civilians are armed (with guns, money, or both), police tend to surrender to the most powerful warlord in the area. This is sometimes accompanied by bribes, and instructions on what is to be done in the service of the new boss. When there are competing interests, the police will often just abandon their jobs. Another old Iraqi custom; "when in doubt, bug out."

The 2,000 additional training personnel are mainly concerned with training police leaders, from the lowest sergeant, to the chiefs who control towns, cities and rural districts. This effort, which has been underway for over two years now, has had some success. But a lot depends on who you recruit in the first place, and how dangerous the local situation is for the new cops. Iraqi police are not suicidal. Police commanders are more likely to stand their ground if they have a good chance of surviving. You can prop up a local police chief with the few special police battalions available. But these elite units are always needed elsewhere, and eventually they must leave. The latest training effort is an attempt to develop police commanders who can survive on their own, and keep the peace. The Coalition is betting that the current trend, of more local police forces keeping the peace, will continue. But it's not a sure thing, especially with all the little "private armies" that are still out there.


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