Border Police Take on Mission of Securing Iraq's Frontier
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT TARIK, Iraq, May 7, 2006 No country can seal off its borders, nor does it make sense to do so in the 21st century.
A border patrol car's rear view mirror reflects the activity at the Tarik border fort on Iraq's border with Iran. The fort is nearly fully operational. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But secure borders are necessary, and the Iraqi border police and other members of the Iraqi security forces are working to secure the new democracy's frontiers.
"One of the greatest advantages of secure borders is the ability to trade with your neighbors," said Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq. "So, although we want to stop all illegal things from being shipped over the border, we also want to create the type of environment that allows commerce to grow between Iraq and all of its neighbors."
The general toured this fort and nearby Fort Karmashia on the Iran-Iraq border today and highlighted the strategy for securing Iraq's borders. The forts are home to the border police's Wasit Brigade. The unit is responsible for securing more than 100 kilometers of the border and maintains garrisons in 20 forts.
The border police are based in 258 of these forts along all of Iraq's borders. There are about 21,000 members of the service, and it will grow to about 28,000 by the end of the year, said officials traveling with Chiarelli. The border police are an integral part of the strategy to end the insurgency in Iraq.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq - has imported foreign fighters to launch suicide attacks in Baghdad. These horrific attacks have killed hundreds of innocent Iraqi men, women and children as well as members of the Iraqi security forces and coalition servicemembers. This is a particular problem along Iraq's border with Syria.
In addition, extremists bring weapons - especially components for improvised explosive devices - into the country. The most deadly of these - the explosive fragmentation projectile, or shaped charge - comes in mainly over the border from Iran, officials said.
The problem then becomes how to stop these illegal activities, while encouraging legitimate commerce.
Chiarelli said integration is the key. "This is part of an overall strategy to integrate all aspects of Iraqi security forces," he said. "This includes the border police, the Iraqi army, and all the Ministry of Interior forces found in the urban areas that are kilometers away from these areas."
He said stopping extremists from taking advantage of porous borders requires a team approach. He praised the Iraqi 8th Division, with headquarters in Kut, for the way it has integrated operations with the border police in Diyala and Wasit provinces. The cooperation among the security forces has already proven its worth with the nearly violence-free Ashura festival. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian Shiia Muslims journeyed to Karbala and Najaf for the religious observance. Border police, Iraqi army and Iraqi police worked together well, the general said.
The effort has come a long way since November 2005, when most of the border forts achieved initial operating capabilities. "It has been a huge effort by both the Iraqi government and the coalition to get these up and running," Chiarelli said. "But they are just facilities. They mean nothing without the great border police that we have working here."
Helping the border police are border transition teams. These 11-man teams from many coalition countries work with the police to integrate operations, to help with training and to serve as examples to the Iraqis. Ukraine and the United States have provided the teams to the Wasit Brigade.
The transition teams bring expertise in personnel, logistics, operations, training and communications, said Army Col. Harry Miller, a New Hampshire National Guardsman who commands the regional effort. "The key right now is the integration between the Iraqi border bolice at the regional and divisional level, and the Iraqi army at the divisional level," Miller said. "The sooner we can help them operate independently, the sooner we can go home. That's the end state."
The border police are proud of their progress. Even with the relative newness of the service, they believe they are already contributing to security in Iraq. "If you compare the border police now with the former regime border police, this police force is already better than before," said Iraqi Maj. Gen. Rashid Gasdban, the border police division commander.