New Dawn: Police Reform in Iraq


2012-08-01  by Richard Weitz

Having an effective police force is critical for Iraq’s long-term stability.

The Ministry of Interior rather than the Iraqi military needs to be the lead Iraqi government agency for countering terrorism and crime, including trafficking in weapons and other contraband across Iraq’s lengthy borders. The Iraqi armed services should instead concentrate on defending Iraqi’s sovereignty and external security rather than continuing to perform police functions.

The main components of the Iraqi police are the Iraqi Federal Police, Regional Police, Department of Border Enforcement, Emergency Police, and Oil Police. The Ministry of the Interior currently has half a million employees, with 300,000 in the provincial police forces, 100,000 in various federal branches, and another 100,000 in various administrative and specialized roles such as the Facilities Protection Service and Oil Police, and 52,000 in the Ministry Headquarters and its functional directorates.

The Federal Police should replace the Iraqi army as the lead agency against terrorism. It is organized into four divisions by region. It has been undermanned in recent years, having a force below its authorized strength. It has also traditionally been underfunded. This makes it more difficult to recruit and maintain personnel as well as find sufficient facilities to train recruits.

The Regional Police service fulfill more traditional police functions such as maintaining order, enforcing the rule of law, and providing community police services. More than a thousand local stations host Shurta (policemen). It also includes the General Explosive Directorate (responsible for mines clearing), a counternarcotics element, and a National Forensic Program.

The State Department is currently scheduled to begin the transfer of police training property and facilities to the Government of Iraq this summer, with an anticipated October 2012 completion date. Credit Image: Bigstock

The Oil Police and the Electrical Police are supposed to relieve the Iraqi Army of having to protect critical oil facilities such as pipelines and oil plants as well as the national electric infrastructure from theft and sabotage. They are supported by thousands of private contractors hired by the owners or managers of these facilities.

Whereas the Coalition Provisional Authority resolved fairly early into the occupation to disband Saddam’s armed forces, they decided to keep the prewar police in place and launch an extensive program to restructure, reform, and retrain it.

For decades the police had been a repressive and corrupt force that was underresourced and otherwise treated poorly compared to the more elite security services, who were responsible for the regime’s most repressive policies.

From 2003 through 2011, the United States spent $8 billion on various police reform programs.

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) was originally in charge of the police reform program of Iraq, but soon the Department of Defense (DOD) assumed responsibility given the immense size of the program. The Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq operated the police training program for more than six years.

DOD-supplied military and civilian trainers, supplemented by other foreign personnel, taught basic counterterrorism skills as well as some specialized subjects such as forensics, bomb disposal, and investigating crime scenes. They managed to recruit and train hundreds of thousands of people in the Iraqi Ministry or Interior and other police entities, but overcoming the Saddam legacy proved difficult–the police generally still had a mediocre record.

In May 2011, the Pentagon was managing more than 370 civilian police and customs and border police advisors at more than 130 sites in 18 Iraqi provinces. They provided fundamental training, staffing, and equipment support to help Iraqis ensure long-term stability through the professionalization of their police force.

Police training transitioned from a Defense Department to a State Department lead on October 1, 2011, when the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Civilian Police Program in the DOS Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), supported by contractors, launched a Police Development Program (PDP) to train Iraqi national and local police forces. INL had been supporting the DOD-led program in Iraq to help train, mentor, and advise Iraqi law enforcement, but the Bureau had never tried to administer such a massive program by itself.

The overall objective of the PDP is to have the Iraqi police rather than the Iraqi army conduct most law enforcement operations. The Program seeks to achieve this objective by professionalizing and de-politicizing the Iraqi police through developing leadership capacity, enhancing civilian policing, and, building on the basic skills imparted by DOD, teaching the Iraqi police through embedded mentors of experienced American police officers specialized skills through sustainable training systems.

Through their advanced training and mentoring, the Iraqi police receive enhanced training in leadership, management, and technical skills for effective work in such areas as community policing, intelligence gathering, and major crime investigation rather than countering terrorism, which was the focus of the previous DOD-led program.

The INL trainers assist the MOI, Iraqi Police Services, and Department of Border Enforcement at regional and national headquarters and at major provincial sites with continued training, education, professional development, and recruiting and a robust instructor development (train-the-trainer) program.

Related PDP rule of law programs aim to improve the administration of justice and reinforce support for human rights, including gender rights. The longer term goal is to reduce the size of the police sector once the threat from the terrorist and organized crime groups decline. Other U.S. programs support court administration, judicial capacity building, public integrity, judicial security, and corrections management, as well as counternarcotics.

In July 2011, the Office of Special Inspector General for Iran Reconstruction (SIGIR) raised serious questions about the PDP. They called State’s training mission “challenging” given the assignment for fewer than 200 U.S. advisers, based in three sites, to support hundreds of thousands of Iraqi police officers in more than half of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

In November, Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, warned Congress that the Defense Department had not comprehensively evaluated its own six-year police training efforts, the Iraqi government had failed to commit to provide substantial support for the PDP, and that DOS policy and logistical planning for the program was weak.

In particular, the State Department failed to develop specific program goals, a timeframe for accomplishing them, sufficient cost and resource estimates, and ways of measuring program progress.

According to SIGIR, the program has been developed and implemented with insufficient understanding or attention to the actual needs of Iraqi police. One of interviews quoted in the SIGIR report has the senior deputy minister of the interior, Adnan Al-Asadi, complain that so much of the finding will be spent on supporting the American trainers that the Ministry will gain little from the program. He instead recommended that the United States “take the program money and the overhead money and use it for something that can benefit the people of the United States because there will be very little benefit to the MOI from the $1 billion.”

Other testimony at this November 30, 2011 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed the serious problems SIGIR identified with the PDP. For example, the State Department representative at the hearing confirmed that the Department could not reliably estimate how long the program might need to last or even whether it could ever accomplish its mission because the Department had not assessed the Iraqi police’s current capabilities or what they needed to improve them to a specific level.

The hearing also made clear that the Iraqis have declined to commit to support the program in writing or commit to contributing their own funds to it—both conditions required by U.S. legislation. “Despite being in development for years, as of today the program’s objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes,” complained Representative Gary Ackerman. “There is no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution. There is no current assessment of Iraqi police force capability and, perhaps more tellingly, there are no outcome-based metrics. This is a flashing red warning light.”

Budgetary uncertainties and other changing conditions have resulted in the INL Bureau constantly having to revise the scope and size of the program. The stated goal for the number of U.S. Government direct-hire personnel, contractors, and trainers required for the PDP keeps changing.

Another problem might be that INL, like many other State Department components, has never had to manage these kinds of large long-term overseas contract programs that are much more common in the U.S. military. The transition in Iraq was an unprecedented experiment in handing off previous Pentagon-run programs to the State Department, which will have its largest embassy in the world there.

As of today, the Department looked set to curtail the PDP as it was reducing the scale of its other programs in Iraq. The PDP currently employs some 100 advisors at two dozen locations in ten provinces who concentrate their training in Iraq’s population centers.

The State Department is currently scheduled to begin the transfer of police training property and facilities to the Government of Iraq this summer, with an anticipated October 2012 completion date.

After spending $100 million to improve for the Baghdad Police College Annex facility with a new dining facility, gymnasium, and other amenities, the Iraqi government seems prepared to use the site for other purposes.

The State Department has ceased trying to secure a formal program agreement for the PDP and plans to continue scaling back the program over time.