Rebuilding the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) was considered one of the few success stories of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq. When the Americans withdrew in 2011 there were questions about whether the ISF would be able to keep up the fight against the insurgency. Issues of training, equipment, logistics and leadership were all brought up. To help shed some light on this issue is Morgan Smiley who served as a police adviser in Ramadi from 2010-2011 with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. He retired from the army in 2013 and served as an adviser to Afghan, Iraqi, and Saudi forces. He currently works as a civilian adviser to the Afghan forces.
1. Was there a national training program for the Iraqi police or were they just taught at their police stations and bases in Anbar?
Because I dealt more with the Federal Police (FP) than Iraqi Police (IP), I cannot say for certain how the IP were trained. I believe they were locally recruited and trained on-the-job, though the leadership often received some type of formalized training in the Baghdad area. Some of the senior IP leadership were drawn from the Iraqi Army (IA) or had previous experience in the old IA and were in position as a result of that. I do recall that the Anbar IP had a training center near Habaniyah that our attached MP [Military Police] Company dealt with. Again, because I worked primarily with the Federal Police brigade, I am unsure of how many IP from Ramadi and Fallujah went through that center during our tenure in Anbar but I know some did.
2. The Iraqi Police are recruited local, but is the same true for the Federal Police or are they drawn from around the country?
The FP that I dealt with were, in many cases, drawn from the Anbar area but many were drawn from other parts of Iraq, often from around the Baghdad area, some from further north. The FP brigade I worked with was the Abu Risha Brigade, named for Sheik Abu Risha who was influential in creating the "Anbar Awakening" in the Ramadi area (the unit leadership took some pride in being associated with this individual).
3. What did you think of the skills and competence of the police units you advised?
Keeping in mind that I was an infantry officer with no real law enforcement experience (beyond previous duty as a police advisor in Afghanistan), I felt that the IP and FP leaders I dealt with were fairly competent and were able to execute basic level management functions within their respective organizations. The lower ranking personnel appeared, for the most part, to be effective, with the FP personnel geared more towards para-military style "policing" (like well-equipped riot control forces) and the IP focused on "community policing", with U.S. forces concentrating on developing their ability to secure a crime scene, collect and secure evidence, conduct investigations, follow the rule of law, etc, etc. I felt that the FP were better prepared to execute their duties since their duties were similar to military functions. The IP needed more work in developing and understanding western methods of law enforcement....very difficult in that culture.
4. How about their equipment and logistics. Were the police you worked with fully equipped and could they maintain their supplies on their own or were they still relying upon the Americans at that time?
The logistics system with both the FP and IP were barely functional. With the FP, their equipment was generally in good shape but maintenance was a constant problem, particularly regarding vehicle parts. The same was true for the IP. In fact, at one IP station in Ramadi, several fairly new Ford F-350 IP trucks sat idle, covered in dust, stripped of parts, because they couldn't get parts through their supply system forcing them to cannibalize their vehicles. Yet they still reported these stripped vehicles as functional for fuel resupply purposes.
They were expecting the U.S. forces to provide logistics support as we had in the past but at this point in the war, we were directed to avoid such efforts in order to force the Iraqis to use their system, identify the shortfalls, correct them, and make it work while we were still there to provide some limited oversight.
5. There have been several reports that the leadership of the ISF is plagued by political appointees. Did you see any of that in Anbar?
The Fallujah IP police chief in 2010-2011 was Brigadier General (BG) Mahmud, who was part of the Issawi [clan within the Albu Issa tribe]. The story we got upon arrival was that Colonel Mahmud had been fired in early 2010 by the Ministry of Interior (MoI) for corrupt behavior and shortly before we got in-theater, was reinstalled as police chief at brigadier general rank because he had a relative working in MoI in Baghdad. BG Mahmud was known to be in regular contact with some of the insurgent groups working in and around Fallujah though I'm not certain what that involvement entailed. He routinely kept information from us regarding insurgent activity in the city (some of which was directed against us) and sometime seemed to know of events before they happened.
6. Did you see anything similar to that with police in Ramadi and the Federal Police?
IP forces in Ramadi and Fallujah seemed to be familiar with insurgent groups in the area, having been there for quite some time. The FP didn't seem as knowledgeable but did indicate some familiarity with key insurgent leaders, likely through the informal communications network (usually involving cell phones) that exists among seemingly everyone in Iraq (and Afghanistan for that matter).
7. When the U.S. pulled out its forces in 2011 did you think the Iraqi police was capable of maintaining itself?
Did I think they could maintain themselves....no. Did I think the IP and FP could perform their primary functions....yes. But maintaining their equipment and sustaining the training and instruction they had received we knew was going to be difficult because of their constant logistics management problems and their general reluctance towards sustainment training....after all, once you've received training in something, why do you need to update, re-train, or go through refresher training, right?
8. The ISF has stopped doing counterinsurgency operations and have reverted to tactics used by the Americans before the Surge such as raiding and then leaving an area, conducting mass arrests, etc. Did you see that coming when you left Iraq in 2011?
I doubt many former U.S. advisors are surprised at how ISF are executing their missions. I think most of us felt that the Iraqi forces were generally uncomfortable with counterinsurgency (COIN) as practiced by U.S. and coalition forces and felt such efforts would be pushed aside after we left. The Iraqis seemed far more comfortable with raids, mass arrests, and the more heavy-handed style associated with Saddam-era security forces versus a population-centric method that relied more on "soft-power" skills.
9. Finally what was the state of the insurgency in Anbar when you left and were there any signs then that it was attempting to rebuild itself after its defeat during the Surge?
The insurgency in Anbar in 2010-2011 was still active but at a far lower ebb than in previous years. While still hitting U.S. targets on occasion, insurgent activity was generally focused against ISF (the Anbar Provincial Government Center in Ramadi was a frequent target). There didn't appear to be a re-building of insurgent forces in the area though there was concern that the Sahwa or "Sons of Iraq" could return to insurgency and terrorism if they didn't get paid as promised by the Iraqi government.