U.S. to Send Iraqis to Site in Hungary for Police Course
By DEXTER FILKINS
The New York Times
August 24, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 24 Eager to have more Iraqis take responsibility for their country's security, American officials here are planning to ferry as many as 28,000 Iraqis to Eastern Europe for an intensive police training course.
Bernard B. Kerik, a former New York City Police commissioner in charge of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said in an interview that American officials had secured permission from the government of Hungary to set up a large police academy inside an old Soviet military base there.
Mr. Kerik said the extraordinary measures were necessary because the existing police academies in Iraq were not large enough to train that many officers in the next several months.
His plan is part of a larger effort by senior American officials here to press the Iraqis to take a greater share in running the country. The Bush administration is also under growing political pressure at home to lighten the load on the American forces here.
"We want to turn Iraqi security over to the Iraqis," Mr. Kerik said. "This is the only way to do it quickly."
He said the prospective Iraqi officers would receive eight weeks of intensive training by Americans in Hungary and then return to Iraq. Early this year, the site was also used to train a group of Iraqi volunteers to work with American troops.
After the men return from training, they would be given four to six months of on-the-job instruction, similar to the training officers undergo in the United States.
Mr. Kerik said he hoped to begin training the first group of 1,500 officers in four months, with 28,000 officers ready to start work in Iraq over the next 18 months. That would bring the total number of police officers to 65,000 the number that American officials believe is required to police the country effectively.
The program outlined by Mr. Kerik reflects the growing sense of urgency among American officials that the chaotic security situation prevailing in some parts of the country could be more effectively dealt with by the Iraqis, who are seen as more credible peacekeepers than the American occupation forces.
There has been some violence against Iraqis who worked with the Americans, including a bombing in early July near the graduation ceremony for the first class of police recruits that killed seven of them. But Mr. Kerik said the overwhelming reason for planning training outside of Iraq was to train police officers as quickly as possible.
He said it would relieve American troops of the burden of doing the policing. But it is unclear whether that would reduce the number of American troops needed in Iraq.
Four months after Saddam Hussein's government collapsed, the streets of some Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, are still quite chaotic, with rampant robberies, kidnappings and shootings often going unpunished. The collapse of public order that followed the fall of Mr. Hussein's government was made worse by the disintegration of the Iraqi Army, which made guns and munitions easily available on the streets.
In Baghdad, for instance, American soldiers have set up checkpoints dedicated almost exclusively to stopping armed carjackings.
Since the end of the war, American administrators have put 37,000 police officers in place around the country. Most of them worked for the former government but were judged by the occupation officials after individual reviews to be competent, honest and reasonably independent from that government, Mr. Kerik said.
He said as many as 3,000 Iraqi officers had been barred from returning to police work, usually because of a history of corruption or brutality, which Iraqis say was common under the old administration.
Each of the officers now working in Iraq has been given a mandatory American-devised training course, usually lasting a few weeks, in police tactics, democracy and human rights. Mr. Kerik said that the pool of former officers was all but tapped out, though, and that raw recruits would need far more training.
Training those new recruits in Iraq's existing police academies would take nearly six years, he said.
Mr. Kerik, who is wrapping up his tour in Iraq, said he hoped that if the first class could begin training in four months, another group of 1,500 would begin training four weeks later. The course would last about eight weeks, he said, which is shorter than most police academies in Western countries, which typically last several months. "We don't have that luxury," he said.
He said the police academy would be set up in Hungary in the same site where hundreds of Iraqi volunteers received military training to join American forces in the invasion of Iraq. That training took place on a base near the city of Taszar.
The Iraqi police force has been given a largely warm reception by the Iraqi people, although it has been weakened by a lack of equipment, especially guns. In the southern Iraqi city of Diwaniya, for instance, only a fraction of the city's 2,500 police officers have guns. American marines overseeing the police have been forced to pair officers with guns with those who have none.
Mr. Kerik, acknowledging the equipment shortage, said that a shipment of 50,000 9-millimeter pistols would arrive shortly, and that 100,000 more would arrive next year.
He outlined progress in putting Iraqi border guards and customs officers in place as well. About 13,600 are on the job, he said, with about 6,000 more still to be hired and trained. American officials are also overseeing the creation of an Iraqi civil defense force, which would have about 14,000 members initially, under current plans.
Mr. Kerik, whose time here is to end in a week, said he was proud of what he had accomplished, including putting together a team of Iraqis who could serve as senior administrators for the new Interior Ministry.
He said said that although he would be returning to the United States, he expected to be engaged for some time in helping his successors.
"I'll probably be on the phone for several weeks," he said.