Contractor recounts role in training Iraqi police
February 12, 2006
It may be the “year of the police,” as Gen. George Casey has termed a new U.S. emphasis on training more, and more effective, Iraqi policemen.
But, for one international police liaison officer, going home this week after a year in Iraq, it already was. And he has a thin, red scar on his forehead to prove it.
The 39-year-old DynCorp contractor had been in Baghdad just four weeks when a car bomb exploded outside his hotel.
An eye was swollen shut, his head was cut and bleeding, and his left hand was injured by something flying through the air in his room. After being stitched up at the U.S. Army hospital, he could have returned to the safety of the U.S. — an option, he pointed out, that soldiers don’t have.
He decided to stick it out.
“Following the explosion, I had a lot of fears,” he said. “I felt like I needed to beat that fear here, instead of going home with it.”
The man asked not to be named or photographed because DynCorp does not allow employees to talk to the press. He is one of an unknown number of contractors who have been part of U.S. efforts to build security forces, including police, from the ground up.
DynCorp in 2003 announced it had won a $50 million contract to help train “civilian law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies.”
Last year, about 700 contractors — including DynCorp and two other companies, Science Applications International and the United States Investigative Services — were training more than half the Iraqi Police Service, according to BusinessWeek.
Training challengeThat effort has not been easy. The 80,000-member Iraqi police force, which has been a target of insurgent violence, has been known for corruption, incompetence and sectarianism.
In a speech prior to V Corps Headquarters leaving Germany for Iraq in January, corps commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told the troops they’d be helping hand over responsibilities to Iraqis, and made a passing but pointed mention of “neglected police capacity.”
Casey said he plans to have a larger police force positioned to “begin to take over and maintain civil security” by the end of the year. He said the force would be increased to 130,000.
Casey’s plan places the spotlight on police training and fielding programs that are in existence, said Marine Corps Maj. Stephen Newsome, who was part of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, or CPATT, when he was deployed to Iraq.
U.S. and coalition forces stood up CPATT in 2004. Before that, several police advisers from the States already had visited Iraqi to assess the police force, from personnel to infrastructure.
The earlier work, slow as it might have been, was not all for naught, said Newsome, who served in Iraq from December 2004 to June 2005.
“This time a year ago, we were putting police out there,” said Newsome, now the Marine Corps' national fellow for the Washington-based think tank Center for Security Policy. “It has been an ongoing effort, but there have been tremendous challenges.”
What critics of the existing police force might not see are the periphery challenges in starting, from scratch, an entire police force — from the police officers themselves to a system complete with administrators, clerks, planners and logisticians.
“I don’t think it’s been put into a true perspective,” Newsome said by phone Friday. “Often, they haven’t gained the full context of the basics of life in Iraq, with sporadic electricity, and a lack of … all public services.”
‘Working on basics’The DynCorp officer said he thought he’d been effective during his year in Iraq.
His previous experience consisted of 14 years as a police officer in a sparsely populated state with a low crime rate and low pay. His last job, which he quit to take the $120,000 DynCorp position, was as a state gambling enforcement officer.
Although that might not seem a solid preparation for training police in Iraq, the officer said it was relevant.
“You’re working on basics,” he said, “Establishing policies and procedures. Tactical patrols. Human rights. Arresting people. Officer safety. Those things are fairly uniform.”
The bombing slowed him down a little. He said it took about two months before he felt he’d recovered psychologically, “through lots of prayer and faith and support from family and friends.”
He spent time training Iraqis in various parts of the country. He said many are young, and this is their first job, but that there are also men who were police or army officers under the old regime.
“The fact is in Iraq, the ways to earn income is the Iraqi police, the Iraqi Army and border enforcement,” he said. He also said that, according to persistent rumors, the killing of an Iraqi police officer nets the killer $5,000 from Iraq’s top terrorists, while the killing of someone like himself brings $9,000.
Glad to go homeThe contractor is glad to be going home to his two children, ages 11 and 16, and his wife, who said, “That don’t look too bad,” when she saw the pictures of his forehead. She really was horrified, he said, but she didn’t want him to know that.
The bombing, which was followed by small arms fire, remains a vivid memory.
“It happens quite fast,” he said. “Your whole body is sore. Because the blast wave goes through you. Weird stuff happens, too.”
After the blast, although there were fears of a second one or of more bullets, uninjured people formed two rows through which the wounded passed.
“They said, ‘We’re going to stand here and take a bullet so the wounded can get out,’ ” the contractor said. “How can you deal with someone stepping up to take a shot for you?
“And, you know, there are Iraqi policemen I’ve worked with I have no doubt would do the same thing.”
Reporter Sandra Jontz contributed to this article.