Iraq pleads for cop trainers to thwart Islamic State

By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 26, 2016


WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Iraq's urgent need for more police officers to secure neighborhoods in Ramadi and other cities freed from Islamic State control is expected to be a priority of Defense Secretary Ash Carter's when he meets next month with allies in Brussels, Defense officials said Monday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi requested the trainers when he met with Carter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and Carter plans to press allies to supply more. Carabiniere, Italian paramilitary police, are leading the training and have put 1,138 Iraqi officers through training courses. Nearly 1,000 more are receiving instruction, according to military documents.

The Italians have 95 carabiniere trainers in Iraq and are sending 15 more to the northern city of Irbil to open a training unit there. The Italians have helped field effective forces, but Carter wants other countries to contribute trainers as well, said a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Pentagon views competent local police as key to the effort to wrest control of Iraqi towns from fighters from the Islamic State, or ISIL, and to maintain order. Islamic State fighters swept across large blocs of Iraq in 2014, seizing major cities such as Mosul and Ramadi as Iraqi soldiers and police fled with little resistance. Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city after Baghdad, remains occupied by Islamic State fighters.

Just as critical will be keeping the police force nonsectarian, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. Islamic State emerged, in part, because the Shiite-led government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had marginalized Sunnis in Iraq.

"The police are viewed as the key 'hold' force — so having 100,000 well-trained police is crucial if cities like Ramadi and ultimately Mosul are to be not just liberated but kept away from ISIL," O'Hanlon said. "And the police are recruited locally, so they are generally seen as more legitimate than the army — or the Shia death squads, reducing the odds that the means used for the hold will ultimately reignite worse sectarian tension, if not civil war. So yes, it's crucially important, and on a large scale."

Already hundreds of newly trained police are helping secure neighborhoods in Ramadi, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a military spokesman in Baghdad. Ramadi was retaken from Islamic State last month after months of U.S.-led airstrikes and an assault by premier elements of the Iraqi military.

"The police will form the backbone of the hold-and-stability force in Iraq," Warren said. "They're needed to keep ISIL out of newly liberated towns like Ramadi, Bayji and Tikrit."

Effective local police are needed in part to take the place of counterterrorism troops so that they can fight elsewhere, the Defense official said.

The carabiniere are in demand internationally for training local police and paramilitary forces and peacekeeping missions. In Iraq, they have conducted a series of courses for police, including an eight-week course of basic police procedures and light-infantry tactics, according to documents. They also have an advanced, four-week course for national police in military tactics and classes on dealing with improvised explosive devices, a favored weapon of the militants.

American equipment for the Iraqi police include body armor and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, Warren said.

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