General Assesses Quality of Iraqi Army, Police
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2007 Iraq’s security forces are making great strides, but the army is enduring a shortage of experienced military leaders, while law enforcement is troubled by sectarian divisiveness on a national scale and distrust by some local societies, the general overseeing training for Iraqi security forces said today.
“There are a lot of positive developments in the Iraqi army, there’s absolutely no doubt about it,” Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, told military analysts during a conference call.
But raising and replenishing an army during a war and in the midst of a nascent government poses challenges, he said. “These are all incredibly hard things to do; it’s hard enough to raise an army when people aren’t shooting at you,” he said. “But they’re doing it, and they’re fighting, and they’re dying, and they’re not running.”
Dubik said he feels “relatively positive” on the army developments, though “huge problems” exist, especially a shortage of experienced Iraqi combat leaders.
“When you grow an army as fast as we’ve grown this one, you can’t produce leaders fast enough,” he said. “You can’t grow majors and lieutenant colonels and colonels in four years. You can grow good captains and lieutenants in four years, … but it takes longer to build the field-grade officer.”
Iraq’s army is waging an aggressive recruiting campaign, buying television and newspaper advertisements aimed especially at former army officers. Dubik noted the Iraqi parliament is debating overturning a law barring former Baathists from returning to government positions, but no such law bars former military members from re-enlisting.
The general said he even recruited an Iraqi interpreter yesterday after a meeting with the minister of defense. “What did you do before you translated?” Dubik recalled asking the Iraqi. “He said, ‘I was an Iraqi pilot.’ Well by the time we left, he was recruited.”
Speaking about Iraq’s national police, Dubik called it “overly infiltrated with militia elements.”
“There’s no doubt in the National Police that the sectarian influence remains and will be hard to eradicate,” he said.
The Sunni-led bombing in February 2006 of a heralded Shiite mosque’s golden dome in Samarra widened sectarian fissures that divide Iraq’s national police today, Dubik said.
“They were a relatively good force in early 2006, but the sectarian violence has really taken a toll on them,” he said.
Iraq’s national police commander, Lt. Gen. Hussein, has cleaned house in the past four to six months, amputating all nine national police brigade commanders from the law enforcement body and replacing them with command teams that equally represent the country’s sectarian makeup. The commander also has fired 17 of 24 battalion commanders and retrained battalions containing members with dubious allegiance to maintaining law and order in Iraq.
Hussein has enlisted help from a battalion of Italy’s paramilitary police force, the Carabinieri, to train eight of his battalions over two months. Those eight battalions, in turn, will train other national police battalions, Dubik said.
Discussing police at the local scale, Dubik said much of the forces’ effectiveness depends on their reputation among locals.
“The issue with local police is always the relationship of the society to the police; that’s true everywhere,” he said. “If the trust breaks down in the society, (then) the police break down.”
Distrust of police by local Iraqi societies has hampered the force’s ability to protect and defend residents. The adverse relationship also can make police officers and their family members targets of intimidation or violence, he said.
“The local policeman here, he goes to work, his family stays home, and his family and he are subject to fear and intimidation associated with terrorist campaigns,” he said. “We all know that one of the things terrorists (and insurgents) try to do is intimidate local officials, and they do a real good job of that.”
But in areas like Fallujah, Ramadi, Baqubah and sections of Samarra, where al Qaeda has been mostly purged, local police are “returning to life.”
After undergoing a vetting process that tracks recruits with biometric and other data, some 7,000 new local policemen have been hired in Anbar province, and 4,000 others have enlisted in Diyala province, where officials soon expect to hire 1,500 more.
“Once we can get the insurgents out and the terrorists out,” Dubik said, “local police come back.”