MP unit out of Germany works with all levels of Iraqi police for an eventual handover
January 15, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — With violence waning against coalition forces, the U.S. Army has taken a different approach toward Iraqi police development in a bid to make recent gains stick.
In past years, the U.S. focus always was on stations and districts — which routinely received fuel, computers and other equipment. But military police are now urging officials at higher echelons to address the issue of supplies.
Lt. Col. Thomas Lombardo, the 18th Military Police Brigade’s operations officer, said the old process often raised accountability concerns.
“We’re in our second week working at this level,” said Lombardo, 39, of Buffalo, N.Y. “We’ve got to let the Iraqi system work it. The provincial and directorate stations need to become more self-reliant. How can they aid the district and local stations with support? They can start supplying those things.
“We have to make them more self-reliant before we can hand it all off to them.”
The brigade, which left Mann- heim, Germany, in October on a 15-month deployment, has more than 5,000 soldiers in Iraq. Four battalions are spread across the country, including two in Baghdad. They’re up north in Mosul, out west supporting the Marines and as far south as Samawah, which is southeast of Baghdad.
The unit assists 75 Iraqi police stations in enforcing the war-torn nation’s fragile rule of law, Lombardo said.
“For the most part, they’re operating pretty good,” he added. “But there are sustainment issues.”
Since last June’s launch of the so-called “surge,” attacks against coalition forces are down 60 percent, the U.S. military says.
Progress on the streets around Baghdad is evident.
Lombardo said a main route frequented by U.S. patrols and convoys used to be besieged with small-arms fire, roadside bombs and suicide car bombers.
“Back in 2004 when we were here, when we traveled it back then, you remember literally holding your breath waiting for impact,” he said. “It was a terrible, terrible route to travel on. Today, it’s nothing like that.”
Downtown streets and markets also are crowded again. “People feel more comfortable,” Lombardo added.
Brigade officials said soldiers still routinely conduct combined patrols and checkpoints with the Iraqis, while police transition teams make regular stops at Iraqi police stations.
Recruitment remains a key aspect of the unit’s mission, according to Maj. Larry Dewey, the 18th Military Police Brigade’s provincial police transition team chief.
Iraqi police number about 25,000 at the station level with another 8,500 working in patrol, said Dewey, 37, of Stephenson, Mich. Plans call for expanding those figures to 33,000 and 11,000 respectively, and facilities must be found for all the new recruits, he added.
Lt. Col. Randall Mock, the 18th Military Police Brigade’s deputy commander, said the Army is working to cement the successes forged by Iraqi police.
“The idea is to get it up to that level and keep it there,” said Mock, 51, of Clinton, Mo. “That’s the piece everyone is wrestling with now. We’ve gotten it there. How do you keep it there?”
Lombardo says that’s what led to the change in focus.
“If we’re going to get the Iraqi police to take ownership, it will require IP leadership to handle sustainment,” Lombardo said.
Brigade officials credit sheiks and tribal leaders for curbing violence and taking responsibility for their neighborhoods.
Lombardo said they’ve stepped up a “reconciliation” between Shiite and Sunni factions, while local citizens are more willing to point out trouble spots.
But the message to troops roaming the streets is clear.
“Baghdad is still dangerous. There’s still a threat that wants to kill you,” Lombardo said. “That’s what we’ve got to pound into our soldiers’ heads. Our biggest fear is complacency. You’re gonna feel relaxed, and you can’t. Don’t let your guard down.”