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Iraqi Police Making Strides, Still Dealing With Challenges

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2006 – Training Iraqi police forces is the most important job in Iraq today, but it is also the most difficult, a senior military police officer involved in that training said today.

"Our goal in theater is to have 135,000 trained and resourced Iraqi police officers working on the streets within the 18 provinces by the end of the year," Army Col. Rod Barham, commander of 49th Military Police Brigade, said from Baghdad in a satellite news conference with reporters in the Pentagon.

The 49th, a California National Guard unit, is responsible for training police at the station level throughout Iraq. Barham said 90,000 Iraqi police are now trained.

The Iraqi government decreed 2006 the "Year of the Police" in Iraq, recognizing the importance of building a competent police force with the confidence of the Iraqi people.

Barham explained that Iraqi police are organized based on several different roles and missions: station police, patrol police, traffic police, river police, checkpoint police, highway patrol, and major crimes units.

Training is conducted on the small-unit level by Coalition Police Assistance Training Teams, consisting of U.S. civilian police officers, military police and translators.

While tremendous progress has been made, challenges abound, Barham said. Corruption in the Iraqi ranks and the sheer amount of area that teams under the 49th have to cover add to the difficulty of the mission.

Still, accomplishments to date in creating a force from scratch are promising. "I'm proud of our soldiers from all over the U.S. who are risking their lives to help Iraq emerge as a free and sovereign nation," Barham said. "I'm also impressed with the many brave Iraqis who are signing up by the hundreds each week to become police officers."

He said Iraqi police recruits come from various backgrounds. Some are former police or soldiers; others have no experience but are eager to help their country emerge from violence. Some women also are joining the force, and Barham said there are no restrictions on the roles they can fill in the police services.

"All types of people are joining the Iraqi police force, and every day people line up to join, despite the dangerousness of the job," he said. "Many consider the job of Iraqi police officer to be one of the most dangerous in the world, and these brave men and women of Iraq should be commended for having the courage to help Iraq in this time of need."

The U.S. Army also has help from coalition partners in training Iraqi police forces. "We're not in this alone," Barham said.

Polish and Italian forces assist with the mission in the Wassit and Qadisiyah areas, and British forces oversee police training in Iraq's four southern provinces. But Barham's unit is responsible for ensuring the training and reporting on the training is standard throughout Iraq.

"This is truly the tip of the spear," he said about training Iraqi police forces, "the main emphasis for this year in Iraq, the year of the police."

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Multinational Force Iraq

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