Military-style training for Iraqi police recruits
July 12, 2003
Two women in the group are married to the same man. Two others are pregnant. But in a week all 27 will be police officers in the southern Iraqi city of Diwaniya.
The women are the first females to enroll in the coalition forces’ new police academy designed to make cops in a hurry out of former Iraqi soldiers and ordinary citizens.
By the end of April, U.S. forces had dissolved the Iraqi police and then started opening academies run by military police to teach a weeklong course on the fundamentals of policing.
Within a few months, members of the Army’s 977th Military Police Company from Fort Riley, Kan., will have created a 1,600 to 2,000-person force to patrol the streets and bring order to the postwar chaos.
“We’re teaching it exactly how the military does it,” said Sgt. Katherine Weber, from Lander, Wyo. “We made up a code of conduct. They have no laws here.”
The Iraqis can amend the training once the government and legal system are restored, she said. But the class is helping to fill an immediate need.
“The first class was all the old army special forces and their officers,” Weber said. Their general told them to show up for the class.
“They didn’t even know they would be police officers,” she said.
The first graduates now serve as instructors with help from the Army MPs. The students learn unarmed self-defense, search techniques, ethics, crime scene protocol and other basic police skills.
The new force wants to clean up the streets as well as improve the pre-war taut relationship between community and police.
The former police force was rife with corruption, Weber said. So it took time convincing people the new police were honest. The quality of applicants improved as the community gained confidence in the force “once they found out we wanted to get rid of the corruption,” Weber said.
“It’ll serve its purpose if we don’t put bad police officers back on the streets.”
The graduates are already on the job in new blue uniforms with armbands and weapons. Most have fared well, Weber said, but there have been cases of corruption. Others passed the course, collected their pay and disappeared.
But many make it and start working in their communities, she said. The best of the graduates will join a second phase of training that will sharpen skills.
“I’m here to help people,” said Iraqi army Capt. Ali Abd al-Hamza Naeem, a student turned academy instructor.
For him, the challenge as instructor is weeding out unqualified or unmotivated students, he said. MPs have had to dismiss as many as half a class for incompetence or other problems.
The students despise certain parts of the training.
“Physical training, very hard,” Naeem said. “But we have a big benefit from it.”
The students also took time getting used to having women in charge.
“They’re not used to females yelling at them,” Weber said, adding that a tough posture early on helped.
Iraqis recognize U.S. females can be in charge, Naeem said, and the men will get use to female officers among them.
As for the women students, most will do searches of females at the jail and at least one will become an investigator, Weber said. They have a modified uniform that includes a long skirt and head cover.
The women say they aren’t afraid to be cops. They’re confident and ready to go, several said. Others added that developing a female police is the first step toward a free Iraqi society.
“They were more open than I expected them to be,” said their instructor, Spc. Rosalee McLain from Keystone Heights, Fla.
They’re shaping up to be good police, she said. Some had worked as nurses for the military, so the experience isn’t too foreign to them.
“I believe there will come a point when they’re the same as male officers,” McLain said.
Many of the students, male and female, come from civilian backgrounds, such as Ahmed Shaker Abass, a lawyer now going through the academy. “I want to [save] my society from the thieves,” Abass said. He also hopes to change the face of the police force.
While some of the students drop out or don’t make the cut, most are in it for the right reasons, the good of their country’s future, Weber said.
“Some come to make a difference.”