BAGHDAD — Nadia Jassim joined the police department for only one reason: She so distrusts its ability to protect her family that she signed up for the free weapons training.
“My neighbor was kidnapped, and there are gangs in my neighborhood,” the 26-year-old cadet said. “The police don’t help, and I want to learn to use the weapons to protect my family.”
The police are so unpopular that Miss Jassim and many of the other trainees at the Baghdad Police Academy say they change into their uniforms only once they are inside the compound.
“I haven’t told many of my friends I’m doing this,” she said. “And mother is so worried that she has hired a taxi to take me to the academy and home each night.”
The Bush administration has said the 138,000 U.S. troops will not leave Iraq until Iraqi soldiers and police can provide adequate security. Despite Washington’s $3.5 billion commitment and the participation of various British police and military units, it is clear that Iraqi police and civil-defense units will not be ready to stand alone for a very long time.
“Our military exit strategy requires a fully effective, credible, reliable Iraqi security force,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, deputy director of operations. Such a force includes the police, army, border patrols and a national guard.
The Iraqi police department, once one of the most feared and hated arms of Saddam Hussein’s regime, is shattered. Analysts say it will take years to create a nationwide police that is trusted and capable.
No police station is properly equipped: Vehicles, weapons, communications, bullet-proof vests and ammunition are in short supply. The buildings often are dilapidated.
About 40 percent of nearly 90,000 cadets and officers on the job have received the basic police training. Twenty-year veterans have no experience in investigations and no concept of a police department sworn to “protect and serve” rather than shake down and terrorize.
Unlike postconflict situations as in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is no NATO force to provide backup while civilian police officers are vetted and trained. In Montenegro and Liberia, there was relative stability after hostilities subsided.
But Iraq is different. Not only is there a robust and organized insurgency in Baghdad, Basra and the so-called Sunni Triangle, but much of the violence is directed at the police.
On Thursday, dozens of officers were killed or wounded in a string of coordinated attacks in six Iraqi cities. Attacks on police stations, training academies and roadblocks indicate that the Iraqi police department is drawing special ire from pro-Saddam elements and foreign fighters.
Hundreds of Iraqi police officers have been killed or wounded in attacks since the U.S.-led occupation began more than a year ago, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
But the Iraqi police force is having no trouble finding recruits. In a country where jobs are scarce and money is tight, police jobs are tempting: Cadets make the equivalent of $51 a month and a police captain about $165. Two years ago, that captain would have been paid $12 to $17 a month — plus whatever he squeezed from motorists, shopkeepers and officers working beneath him.
The new recruits, by comparison, are drilled that bribery, extortion, arbitrary detention and summary execution are unacceptable methods of policing.
Trainers say the cadets are eager to be responsible and respected officers of the peace. Even some of the old officers, who supposedly have been vetted to weed out active Ba’athists and sadistic thugs, are said to be “thirsty” for new skills and philosophy.
But everyone recognizes that it will be hard to break the lucrative habits perfected over twenty years of impunity. Recognizing the difficulties, the Coalition Provisional Authority in March 2003 created the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT), which is responsible for coordinating the training of every Iraqi police officer.
Brig. Gen. Andrew MacKay, the head of CPATT, calls himself a “glass half-full kind of man,” but he’s frustrated by the lack of progress.
“Unlike Kosovo and Bosnia, the complexities of learning while we go is very public,” he said, sitting in his office inside the Republican Palace. “Here, we have to work with functioning police units, with no luxury of stopping time.”
By comparison, he said, the Kosovo program was in a “benign environment,” started from scratch, was fully funded and only comprised about 6,000 officers.
Reinventing the police will be a two-way street, according to U.N. officials with experience in postconflict reconstruction — the police will have to learn criminology and human rights, and Iraqis will have to learn how to trust them.
Without trust, the police will remain marginalized and their effectiveness will be in question.
It is a common sight to see U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police on joint patrols around Baghdad. But the local police seem droopy and passive.
Under the Pentagon’s plan, the Iraqi army, police and civil-defense forces will take responsibility city by city, as U.S. troops withdraw to the background. Experiments in Fallujah and Najaf have been qualified failures.
In the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah, said to be held by militants, the Iraqis were uncomfortable with U.S. orders to storm homes and many simply refused to work for the “occupation” against their countrymen. By one Iraqi estimate, nearly half the civilian police officers walked off the job. Others actually joined the opposition.
“It hasn’t gone well; we’ve had almost one year of no progress” in creating the new Iraqi army, police and civil-defense troops, Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton told the Associated Press recently. He said the Fallujah experiment was “premature” and showed that the Iraqi forces needed their own command structure, rather than taking orders from the Americans.
At the Baghdad Police Academy, eager officers receive field training in safe weapons handling, high-risk traffic stops and crowd control. They also sit through hours of classroom work on policing in a democratic society, respect for civil and political rights, and how to talk to victims, witnesses and suspects.
For cadets, it is a heavily scheduled eight-week program, conducted here or in Jordan. For the veteran officers, the class lasts four weeks and emphasizes new material, such as ethical behavior and criminology.
By comparison, U.S. police cadets spend six to 12 months in the academy, followed by a year or so of mentored on-the-job training.
On a recent afternoon, cadets at the Baghdad Police Academy, nodded enthusiastically during a discussion of ethnicity, race and gender led in Arabic by a young Iraqi police officer.
But one classroom away, older police officers were plainly bored and even antagonistic to the American soldier trying to drag them through an abstract lecture on human rights.
To illustrate the proper way to stop and search a vehicle, military police officers at the academy screen an episode of “Cops” and explain to their riveted class what the officer did right and wrong.
“The eight-week training period isn’t enough; they need more time,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who visited not long ago. He also complained that one recruit in 10 is illiterate and that others have criminal histories.
Mel Goudie, the Scottish member of parliament who runs the academy, agreed that the program is too short, but says it’s better for the Iraqi people to see partially trained police officers now than to hold them back and use coalition forces for civilian peace.
Analysts say improvements in the Iraqi police department will come from the bottom up, as new recruits and able veterans adopt better policing habits. New hires should come through the academy by year’s end, with continuing education for the rest taking somewhat longer.
But even Gen. MacKay knows the deadline is looming.
“If we are not achieving [stability] by the end of the year, it may well be a violent election” in January, he said. “Unless you fill the vacuum quickly, the wrong people will step in, then expand their power.”