Iraq on Track for Meeting Police Goals, U.S. General Says

By David McKeeby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – One indication of Iraq’s advance toward self-sufficiency is the progress being made in building strong, capable national and local law enforcement agencies – essential to guaranteeing the country’s long-term security, a coalition officer says.

With less than four months left in the coalition-designated “Year of the Police,” Army Major General Joseph Peterson, the coalition’s top officer dedicated to training Iraqi police, told reporters September 20 that there are now 128,000 police officers on the streets nationwide – 95 percent of the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s goal of 135,000 by year’s end.

“We see no reason why we will not achieve 100 percent and, in fact, in some categories exceed 100 percent of what was promised before December,” Peterson said during a videoconference briefing from Baghdad.


As in many other transitional societies, where police forces once served as an instrument of repression, Iraqi authorities first challenge was to regain the public’s trust in their police officers.

As the new Iraqi government was forming, Peterson said, armed groups were invited to join the country’s new army and police units, adding to concerns as violence among the country’s Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish communities gradually increased in 2006.

In the wake of the February 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, efforts to build public trust in the police were set back by allegations that some individuals and units failed to fully discharge their security duties and that some officers might have participated in attacks on civilians.

 In response, coalition officials have undertaken an aggressive series of investigations into alleged police misconduct by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, resulting in the dismissals of individual officers, mid-level commanders – even entire units – for corruption and other types of misconduct.  (See related article.) 

These investigations also showed, Peterson said, that there have been far fewer confirmed incidents of police involvement in sectarian violence than had been alleged – yet another positive indicator of police loyalty to Iraq’s new democratic ideals.

Other initiatives, such as sending former militants to newly established police academies and establishing an evaluation program to assess police performance and provide unit-specific training, also reportedly have helped Iraqi officers as they work through the ongoing challenges of becoming part of a modern law enforcement institution.

A second challenge facing Iraqi law enforcement was the imperative to build national, provincial and local police forces while simultaneously confronting a complex array of threats, including Sunni insurgent groups, foreign terrorists such as al-Qaida in Iraq, militants engaged in sectarian violence and other well-armed criminal gangs. 

This challenge, Peterson said, led Iraqi authorities and their coalition allies to pursue a two-tiered strategy which focused first, on mobilizing large numbers of prospective officers, and then using a combination of  training, embedded advisers and joint operations to mold them into a modern, effective police force. 

In all, 6,000 coalition police professionals, mainly from Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States staff 185 of these police transition teams across the country, with another 39 teams supporting the Iraqi National Police.  

The next phase for improving the quality of Iraqi police, Peterson said, will require more training for officers in community policing techniques as well as identifying and developing the force's future leaders.

This has been a good year for the Ministry of Interior in terms of increasing its “ability to administer, support and manage the ministry and its forces,” Peterson said, “and it's also been a great year from the standpoint of creating the capability in the police forces themselves to assist the Iraqi army in providing a safe and secure environment in the country of Iraq.”   

A transcript of Peterson’s briefing, along with briefing slides and a video link, is available on the Multi-National Force – Iraq Web site.

For more information, see Iraq Update.