Iraq Interior Ministry Forms Police Commando Battalions
By Sgt. Jared Zabaldo, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 20, 2004 To add an immediate strike-force capability to Iraq's police forces, the Ministry of Interior -- in one of the Iraqi interim government's first self-initiated security force moves since the June 28 sovereignty handover -- has begun forming six police commando battalions.
Iraqi police commando recruits perform martial arts drills during
their training. Photo by Sgt. Jared Zabaldo, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Initially stood up some six weeks ago, two battalions of highly vetted Iraqi officers and rank-and-file servicemen were operational within two weeks and performed with great distinction in anti-Iraqi force counter-operations in four recent insurgent hotspots, officials said.
The force now has a third battalion in training, with a fourth and fifth recruited a week ago but yet to undergo initial training. Recruiting prior-service professionals, officials said, was designed to allow immediate employment of the battalions, putting to work personnel from the former regime's Special Forces elements and other specialty units.
"From this regiment," said Iraqi Police Service adviser for the interior ministry Maj. Gen. Adnon Thabit, "we have police who have previous experience fighting terrorism and also people who received special training under the former regime -- people who used to be in the army. They were all chosen on the basis of loyalty to Iraq and from their support for the democratic change taking place in Iraq and for those who have not committed crimes against Iraqis. "They were efficiently chosen according to information about their background."
Thabit, the architect of the force, personally interviews all officers and commanders for the unit he describes as one focused primarily on building-raid operations and counterterrorist missions against hijackers and kidnappers. His Multinational Force Iraq counterpart, U.S. Army Col. James H. Coffman Jr., said the process is an ongoing one aimed at making the unit highly effective. Coffman is a special adviser from the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
Coffman said Thabit has made it clear that the officers' appointments are temporary. "If they do well in combat," Coffman said, "and in their administrative duties, they'll stay. If they don't, he'll replace them."
Thabit spent six years in jail for involvement in conspiracies against Saddam Hussein's regime. The force he created -- while an Interior Ministry initiative - resembles a paramilitary army-type force, complete with heavy weapons, rocket- propelled grenades, AK-47 assault rifles, mortars, and 9 mm pistols.
"The Iraqis felt like they needed a high-end capability," Coffman said. "They needed a strike force that reported to the Ministry of Interior and they felt like they had an immediate requirement to have a strike capability. So they purposely went out and recruited against these former special forces and (former Directorate of General Security) personnel that had a high degree of training existing already to capitalize on the previous skill sets that they had."
And the results came in quickly. In the Haifa Street area of Baghdad nicknamed "Little Fallujah," two battalions hauled away 58 foreign fighters attacking Iraqi and multinational forces in the city. The first two battalions also grabbed up another large force of foreign fighters in Samarra.
When attacked in North Babil by anti-Iraqi force small-arms fire, mortars and improvised explosive devices, the unit efficiently and methodically negotiated the attacking force before continuing on to its objectives, according to multinational advisers familiar with the action.
"This is a very disciplined unit," said Coffman, who has a Special Forces background. "It is not a pick-up team taken off the streets. These are disciplined soldiers who are doing a very good job, and they're very impressive because of it."
Coffman cited the Samarra operation as an especially good example of their effectiveness, having been given only 48 hours' notice before the mission.
Despite having been together for only a few weeks, the then 400-man force successfully deployed and within 24 hours began coordinated multinational force operations with success. And in all three operations in which they've participated so far, their casualty count totals only one minor injury.
Thabit said the commandos can respond for movement with a single hour's notice. "According to our personal estimation," he said, "we're only using 50 percent of these recruits' and officers' capability. We are hopeful that within this month we will reach up to 90 or 100 percent of our capabilities."
The force currently stands at nearly 4,000 personnel, including recent recruits.
(Army Sgt. Jared Zabaldo is assigned to the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq public affairs office.)