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Corruption Ebbs as Iraqi Police Leadership Strengthens

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2007 – A firm commitment to professionalism and transparency from Iraq’s political leaders are helping the country’s growing civil security force perform well in “a highly challenging environment,” a coalition training official said yesterday.

British Army Brig. Gen. Rob Weighill, deputy commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, told online journalists that, with 200,000 Iraqi police officers trained in the past two years, his organization is well on its way in its mission to “generate, train and sustain the Iraqi police forces,” so that they can shape a security environment favorable to democratic establishment.

Iraq’s overall civil security force – including local police, national police, and border, ports, highway and traffic patrols – is about 300,000 strong, Weighill said.

But sheer numbers are only a part of the game, Weighill explained. He said Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Bolani has repeatedly made clear he values quality over quantity in building the force, particularly in relation to skills and rights training.

To ensure new policemen have the necessary capabilities to operate independently, training has been largely standardized across Iraq’s various police academies, Weighill said. He pointed to the Numaniyah training center, southeast of Baghdad, as an example of how such facilities operate.

Numaniyah, Weighill said, has the capacity for 2,000 beds, roughly matched to the size of an Iraqi police brigade. Recruits who graduate the four-week program are typically sent out as a cohesive unit.

“They come, literally, straight out of Numaniyah, in brigade size, and get put into Baghdad, sitting alongside and working alongside their Iraqi police brethren” and the Iraqi army, Weighill said.

The general commended the “standard, tried, and now tested, training program,” but acknowledged room for further growth.

Respect for human rights remains a perpetual concern, Weighill said. Rights training has been a part of the Iraqi curriculum since 2003, but the issue has become increasingly germane amid Iraq’s tide of sectarian violence, he said.

“This is an important aspect of their policing duty because it fulfills the vital requirement for them to understand and implement what it means to treat people fairly and with dignity and respect,” the general said.

In the past, he noted, “a lack of leadership, a lack of training, and therefore an absence of support and trust between the police and the community” led to situations in which Iraqi police officers stood by while crimes were committed.

With a reinvigorated Ministry of the Interior, Weighill said, such behavior, along with more egregious cases of corruption, is no longer tolerated.

Minister Bolani “emphatically states he will not put up with corruption,” Weighill said, noting that senior ministry officials have been removed in cases of nefarious activities.

The maturation of robust internal affairs and inspector general’s offices within the ministry over the past two to three years has led to a swell of investigations within the force, Weighill explained. These offices are tasked with “identifying fraud, crime (and) corruption” and punishing perpetrators appropriately, he said.

In January, about 1,200 such cases were investigated by the inspector general’s office alone, Weighill said.

“Contrary to popular belief – that is that the Ministry of the Interior and the Iraqi police are heavily infiltrated from the sectarian perspective – the work that I’ve done… would suggest otherwise,” Weighill observed.

“Of course there are infringements of the law” and those are “dealt with in accordance with Iraqi law,” Weighill said.

These examples of strong leadership from the ministry are crucial to maintaining professionalism throughout the ranks, Weighill said.

“Principally through training, the leadership element within the Iraqi police, national police, is improving all the time,” Weighill said. “If that leadership is strong, then by and large, the levels and frequency of criminality – whether it’s taking bribes, whether it’s involved in corruption, or indeed involvement in sectarian violence – tends to diminish.”

To help ensure adherence to standards, ethics and protocol, the general said, the Iraqi police just conducted a full spectrum inspection of all 47 police stations in Baghdad.

The review highlighted that among other areas, police infrastructure, vehicles, and overall processes and procedures all need improvement, Weighill said, though he noted anti-corruption procedures are far tighter than in the past, especially relating to funding and personnel payments.

Management and administration of the police force stand to gain from the gradual introduction of digital information management systems, Weighill said. He predicted the systems could be in place by late 2008.

In the meantime, shortages of capacity within the training regime have actually led to a temporary freeze on police recruiting throughout Iraq, Weighill said, though he characterized the hold as a positive sign.

“There’s no shortage of volunteers,” he said. “In fact, we’ve had to… place a three-month moratorium on recruiting simply because we don’t have the capacity and the training establishments at the moment to deal with the numbers that are volunteering to join the police.”

For the existing training facilities and programs, progress is unlikely to be affected by the Iraq funding debate in Washington, Weighill said.

“We in the police are probably in a slightly better position than the Iraqi army,” he said, “in so far as the money that is spent by the United States in support of the Iraqi police is a smaller proportion of those funds than is spent on the Iraqi army.”

“What is interesting,” Weighill added, “is that the Iraqi central government budget for the police in 2007 almost doubled from 2006, so actually the Iraqi government is contributing significantly to the way in which business is conducted.”

That type of strong Iraqi government commitment is largely behind the steady improvement of the police force, Weighill said.

“I work on a daily basis in the Ministry of Interior building with people… who are becoming good friends,” he said. They exert “an enormous amount of industry to try and ensure that the Iraqi police can operate and function effectively.”

Weighill said close contact with the police force in his first two months in Iraq have reversed what were negative impressions of their capabilities and efficacy.

“I came out here with perhaps the view that prevails in the United Kingdom – I can’t speak for the United States – which is that the Iraqi police are emphatically infiltrated with sectarian issues,” Weighill said. “They’re not trusted by the population, that they have difficulties in undertaking their tasks. I have found the opposite to be the case,” he added.

“Pretty much every contact that I’ve had with the police is that these boys… and these women are doing a pretty good job in highly demanding circumstances,” the general said. “And I think as you would say in your country, as far as I’m concerned, they’re patriots.”

(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)

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