A Hole in Bush's Iraq Exit Strategy
The Bush Administration and senior military commanders have suggested in recent days that the training of Iraqi security forces -- one of the linchpins of America's exit strategy -- is going so well that significant troop reductions may be possible by early next year. On Apr. 12, during a surprise visit to Baghdad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked up the progress the security forces are making. His position echoed early remarks by General George Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, about substantial drawdowns in U.S. forces by spring of next year. Later that day, President George W. Bush told soldiers at Fort Hood, Tex., that "Iraqi forces are becoming more self-reliant."
Nonetheless, while the Iraqi army seems to be getting up to speed, the training of the 142,000-member police force -- about half the total security forces supposedly needed -- is moving more slowly and fraught with bigger problems than reports by U.S. officials might suggest (see Slide Show: "Inside Iraq's Police Boot Camp").
On Apr. 4, insurgents kidnapped a senior Iraqi police official in broad daylight. A bomb near Kirkuk killed at least nine police officers on Apr. 14. According to U.S. government data, 69% of the 98,000-soldier Iraqi army has been trained and equipped. But only 39% of the national police force of 142,000 is ready for duty. And BusinessWeek Online has learned that the number of actual police may drop sharply once an ongoing head count finishes.
After a dozen interviews with government officials and the private-contract employees who are training more than 60% of the national police, it's clear that putting into place a force that can operate effectively without backup from coalition forces remains a long way off. Many police lack the skills, confidence, and gear to help quell a fierce insurgency and safeguard a fledgling democracy.
"We'd all love to see things move faster," says Robert Charles, who recently resigned as assistant secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics & Law Enforcement Affairs, a State Dept. office that manages law-enforcement training worldwide, "but we work within the laws of physics and humanity."
Infiltration of the police by insurgents poses a critical problem, says a U.S. Army captain who returned from Iraq in February after a yearlong tour as a military intelligence officer. Sometimes the police even act in cahoots with the insurgents. In one instance, insurgents let it be known that they were going to attack a police station, and the cops left ahead of time. The next day, weapons and patrol cars had disappeared. "In some towns, we don't trust the police as far as we can throw them," says the captain.
Last September, the Pentagon hired police-testing experts Morris & McDaniel, a small Alexandria (Va.) company, to build a prototype for screening recruits. David Morris, the outfit's president, says the military realized it needed to make a change last spring when police and armed forces in Fallujah and Najaf vanished rather than fight insurgents. "Any old chucklehead that shows up goes on the plane to [the police academy in] Jordan," says Peter Velz, a former official with the Coalition Provisional Authority.
RAPE AND EXTORTION.
Contractors and U.S. officials say other daunting difficulties range from ill-conceived training programs to corruption, fraud, and a litany of human rights abuses. "[Recruits] bring up Rodney King," says Harry Ulferts, a retired cop who supervises 31 trainers for contractor Science Application International Corp. (SAIC). "They say American police beat people, too. We tell them those were criminal acts." It's also not uncommon for recruits to go through training, disappear, and then sell their weapons on the black market.
Most disturbing, in the last half of 2004 Iraqi police have killed political opponents, falsely arrested people to extort money, and systematically raped and tortured female prisoners, according to a February, 2005, State Dept. report on Iraq's human rights record. In one of the worst examples, police in Basra reported last December that officers in the Internal Affairs Unit were involved in the slaughter of 10 Baath Party members. Iraq's Human Rights Minister, Bakhtiar Amin, says it will be hard to teach democratic policing because torture and other human rights abuses were "learned behavior."
One fundamental problem is that Iraqi and U.S. officials don't know exactly how many people are working on the police force. An Iraqi-led "qualifying committee," using cutting-edge biometric technology provided by Cross Match Technologies in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is conducting an assessment of the Iraqi police payroll to detect the number of deserters, crooks, and retirees. The Iraq Interior Minister recently extended the committee's April deadline by four months because certain parts of the country have been too dangerous to visit.
When the committee finishes its work in August, the number of police could fall sharply, say officials. "It's safe to say there are tens of thousands on the payroll who aren't working," says Matt Sherman, a State Dept. official who served as senior security adviser to Iraq's Interior Minister for 14 months.
To be fair, creating from scratch a police force nearly four times as big as that of New York City would make an ambitious task under any circumstances. Doing so in a nation still in the throes of an urban guerrilla war approaches the impossible. More than 1,500 Iraqi soldiers and cops have been killed, with 6,000 wounded. But the high risks bring high rewards for trainers.
More than 800 former FBI agents, cops, and other private-contract employees are helping to build a police force. The majority work for DynCorp International, which has a $500 million contract, or SAIC, which has a $200 million contract and more than 250 personnel in-country. Last spring, the U.S. military's Civilian Police Assistance Training Team gave a $200 million contract to U.S. Investigations Services, which has 50 people in Iraq, to help train police in counterinsurgency operations.
And in February, the Justice Dept. awarded a contract valued at up to $400 million to L-3 Communications Holdings (LLL ), a subsidiary of MPRI, to help provide police training. MPRI is taking over the work performed by SAIC. The pay typically exceeds $100,000 a year, but being a private-contract employee in Iraq may qualify as the most dangerous civilian job in the world.
So far, 210 contractors have been killed in Iraq since the war began. In fact, while an SAIC spokesman says "it made a business decision not to rebid for its contract," State Dept. officials say SAIC dropped out because of the work's danger. "My wife will change the locks on the door if I go back," says David Brannan, a former cop and now a terrorism analyst for RAND Corp., who narrowly escaped death by a mortar attack last year while helping to train the police in Iraq.
Overall, U.S. military officials and contractors say the training of Iraqi police forces is gaining momentum. The most visible sign of progress came on Jan. 30, when Iraqi police and troops played a key role in protecting about 5,200 polling sites, allowing some 8 million citizens to vote. The leader of Iraq's Special Police Commandos, General Adnan Thabit, says his forces have benefited from a growing stream of intelligence from citizens who call in tips about insurgent activities. "Patrol officers are getting a lot more respect," says Vince McNally, an ex-FBI agent who teaches a hostage negotiation course for SAIC.
The eventual goal is to have Iraqis training all of their security forces, but private contractors expect to continue working well into 2006. One small but revealing reason: McNally says half of his students suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. "They are the main targets of insurgents," he says. "It makes it difficult to maintain their attention span."
By Spencer Ante in New York
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