By at least 2020 the Iraqi government plans on transferring internal security of the country from the army and Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry. That poses the question of whether the Iraqi police are up to the task. In October 2010 the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) conducted an audit of the American police training effort. It found that the U.S. had always focused upon the number of officers it could produce rather than whether they were competent or not. The mission also lacked continuity, coordination, long-term planning, and effective measures of success. There’s no telling whether the police will be ready then by 2020.
Before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, it didn’t have realistic plans for the Iraqi police. The Pentagon assumed that the government would be up and running the day after the war ended, and that the police would be back on their job as well. The State Department, with assistance from the Justice Department, was originally tasked with responsibility for the police. State was supposed to set up a training mission to teach the Interior Ministry’s forces about democratic practices and modern investigative work involving 5,000 international police. The Bush Administration however, didn’t like the idea because it didn’t want responsibility for running the country after the war. The CIA also offered an assessment saying that the Iraqi police were good, which allowed some officials to argue that they did not need U.S. assistance. Instead the U.S. came up with a plan to assess the Iraqi police and justice system using 1,000 private contracts and 500 foreign police if necessary. The United States Institute of Peace warned the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board about the shortcomings of this plan right before the war, but to no avail.
Immediately after the invasion, the American assumptions about Iraq fell apart. The police ended up abandoning their posts. Within a few weeks some officers wandered back to work. Time magazine for example, reported that around 50% of the police in Baghdad were back on duty by mid-May. A State Department team arrived in Iraq that month with just 34 members. On May 30, it issued a report that found the police to be corrupt, unprofessional, and untrustworthy. It recommended 6,663 advisers be sent in immediately, which was rejected by Washington because it lacked the money and personnel. Before the war State had estimated that it would cost $1 billion to just send in 1,500 advisers, but in May it only had $25 million budgeted for the task. Instead only 150 police experts from a contractor were hired. Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator of Iraq shared Washington’s skepticism of the need for police aid as well.
The deteriorating security situation in Iraq quickly changed people’s opinions. In April the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was put together and pushed for the hiring of thousands more police as quickly as possible. In mid-May, former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik was hired, he estimated that Iraq needed 33,000-35,000 new officers, which would take two years. By the fall, the CPA had set up a $1.2 billion program in neighboring Jordan to train 35,000 recruits, and similar efforts within the country. Classes only lasted two-weeks however, and then officers were sent out to work. By October the United States Institute of Peace issued a harsh criticism of the U.S. effort, saying that there was no real commitment to rebuild the police, and that six months had been wasted, which resulted in the deterioration of security in the country. Others said that the force suffered from limited training, lacked equipment, were infiltrated by the insurgency, and were being rushed into the field before they were ready.
Because of the failure of these early efforts, the U.S. military was given control of the Iraqi police in May 2004. The change in command, did not fix the situation. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) shifted focus from the State Department’s long-term plans to build a democratic police force, to pumping out as many officers as quickly as possible to fight the insurgency. The military’s short-term thinking also didn’t coordinate local training with national goals. U.S. Army and Marine units generally did what they wanted with the police, and sometimes gave it no priority because of other concerns. What they did had nothing to do with what was going on with the police academies the U.S. set up, the Interior Ministry’s plans, or the Jordanian effort. Also, every time an American unit left or a new American general took over Iraq, a completely new agenda was started with no connection to the previous one. That meant announcements like the 2006 “Year of the Police” were meaningless because there were no actual plans, standardized program, or communication or cooperation at different levels to carry it out. Instead, every year from 2004-2010 the main goal was to put as many police as possible out in the field, and from 2008 on to make the Interior Ministry more independent.
The Special Inspector General (SIGIR) also found that there was no reliable information on the capabilities of the Iraqi police. That was because the U.S. program focused upon numbers rather than competence. In 2010 the SIGIR found that there was even less information available about the Iraqi police than 2009 because the U.S. stopped assessing them as part of its withdrawal. The last report available came from February 2010. It said that the Interior Ministry’s forces had minimum essential capabilities to protect the population, fight crime, investigate crime scenes, counter explosives, protect infrastructure, and carry out counterinsurgency operations in less than three of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. The Border Police were only capable of securing the country’s frontiers in one to two provinces.
Now that the U.S. is withdrawing its military, it plans on having the State Department once again take over advising and assisting the Interior Ministry. State is supposed to focus upon management, administration, and specialized skills, run three training facilities, and coordinate with Iraq’s academies and provincial headquarters. All of this is to be done with only 200 personnel, 150 less than what State wanted because of budget constraints in Washington. The U.S. hopes that England, France, Denmark, Italy, the European Commission, the United Nations, and NATO will also lend a hand. The Pentagon has warned that the Interior Ministry has serious gaps in funding, command, and logistics, and is afraid if those aren’t partially solved by December 2011, they may never be fixed. Some analysts are also worried that the State Department will lack the people to effectively aid the Iraqi police.
The SIGIR audit is a damning indictment of the U.S. effort to rebuild the Iraqi police. The insurgency and civil war short-circuited the original American plans for the Interior Ministry, which were unrealistic to begin with. When the U.S. military took over, it simply wanted as many police in uniform as possible, and forced many out in the field before they were ready. This led to the disintegration of many units, and stations being overrun by insurgents and militiamen. The State Department is now supposed to take over the training mission, but will largely focus upon the bureaucracy of the Interior Ministry rather than the average policeman. The last official U.S. report on the Ministry’s forces from February 2010 doesn’t seem to paint them as being very competent and able to secure the country, let alone carry out basic police duties. All of this history makes it hard to think of the $7.3 billion spent on the police in the last seven years by the Americans as a wise use of funds.
Banerjee, Neela, “Raid prompts doubts about Iraqi security,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2/16/04
Cordesman, Anthony, “The Current Military Situation in Iraq,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11/14/03
Eisenberg, Daniel, “Can Anyone Govern This Place?” Time, 5/26/03
Fineman, Mark, Wright, Robin, and McManus, Doyle, “Preparing for War, Stumbling to Peace,” Los Angeles Times, 7/18/03
Gordon, Michael, “For Training Iraq’s Police, the Main Problem Was Time,” New York Times, 10/21/04
PBS Frontline, “Interview Gen. Jay Garner,” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03
- “Interview Robert Perito,” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03
Shanker, Thom, “U.S. to keep troop levels in Iraq unchanged,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/10/03
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Iraqi Security Forces: Police Training Program Developed Sizeable Force, But Capabilities Are Unknown,” 10/25/10
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/10
Tyler, Patrick and Bonner, Raymond, “Iraqis dubious about U.S. contracts,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/4/03
Walt, Vivienne, “Bombing at Baghdad police compound,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/3/03