Training pays off, Iraqi police set to lead
Stars and Stripes February 7, 2008
RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq — Iraqi police have made a “quantum leap forward” the last five years and sit on the cusp of taking the lead for all security matters in east Baghdad, the 95th Military Police Battalion commander said.
Actually getting there is proving more elusive.
Lt. Col. John Bogdan said recruiting remains a top priority, but Iraqi police stand fully trained and functional in the area, where the 95th is working to build 50 stations scattered over an expansive 295 square miles.
The battalion, which deployed in October from Mannheim, Germany, coordinates its mission with eight different U.S. military “landowners.” The unit has almost 800 soldiers in Iraq.
“The end-state objective is [for us] to slowly phase away and let the ISF (Iraqi security forces) take the lead, instead of being over their shoulder all the time,” said Bogdan, 42, of Richmond, Va. “I’m not sure that can happen in our tour here, but it’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
The trick for military police, Army officials said, is striking a balance between operational needs and cultural sensitivities. Sheiks and tribal leaders are highly influential in the establishment of police stations.
“It’s natural for people to want peace,” said Col. Mark Spindler, 47, of St. Louis, the 18th Military Police Brigade commander. “The irreversible momentum we look for will be perpetrated by the people, because they don’t want to go backwards again.
“But religion will always be part of their governance. It won’t be separated. And that’s just the way it is.”
On rare occasions, Bogdan says he runs into other hurdles.
During a recent meeting in Baghdad with the Rusafa district’s directorate police chief, he learned the Interior Ministry had switched out key personnel in a local station that had begun showing signs of progress.
“It’s the exception, not the rule. But it happens,” Bogdan said. “Just when a station commander gets familiar with his area of operation, they’ll make a change for no apparent reason. It’d be like the Pentagon or DOD reaching down into my battalion to make staff changes.
“There’s not much you can do about it, but it’s frustrating. Sometimes, it makes you wonder if they really want the station to succeed.”
The security situation east of the Tigris River in Baghdad remains a little more volatile than in other parts of the city, but it’s improved considerably, battalion leaders said. Enemy activity already was waning when the 95th took over from the 759th Military Police Battalion last fall at Rustamiyah.
Bogdan said “concerned local citizens” — armed civilian groups — have played a major part in helping to reduce violence.
“It’s still a dangerous area,” he added. “Soldiers still run into EFPs [explosively formed penetrators], roadside bombs and mortars on a regular basis. But still, we’ve seen a significant drop in attacks on the battalion.”
The 95th conducts at least one combined patrol a day with the Iraqi police, said Maj. Jeffrey Bevington, the battalion operations officer. It also maintains a military police presence 24 hours a day at six joint security stations.
However, the battalion seldom does raids with the Iraqis anymore. Instead, its units act in an observatory role and often now learn about operations after the fact.
Not long ago, that used to be the other way around.
“We always try to push the IPs out in front, even in combined patrols,” said Bevington, 43, of Akron, Ohio. “We want to show everyone that … this is a legitimate force.
“We’ve got to get the systems in place where they can self-sustain. That’s where we’re focusing now. The Iraqi police are trained, and ready to take the lead. We’ve just got to get the right systems in place.”
MPs see changed outpostRUSTAMIYAH, Iraq — More than three months into its deployment, the 95th Military Police Battalion has taken a few nasty hits on the streets of east Baghdad.
At this point, however, leaders say they’ve faced only a fraction of the violence encountered by the unit’s predecessor, the Fort Carson, Colo.-based 759th Military Police Battalion, which suffered numerous casualties from a rash of roadside bombs, mortars and small-arms fire.
It also was among those Army detachments whose deployments were extended from a year to 15 months after arriving in Iraq.
“The 759th really took a beating,” said 1st Lt. Barrett Banks, the 95th Military Police Battalion’s personnel officer. “It’s been pretty quiet for us.”
So far, the 95th has seen only about 20 percent of the hostile incidents that affected the 759th, he added.
At times, it was just as ugly on the base as it was outside the wire. Early in the 759th’s tour, rocket and mortar attacks at the base were so frequent that soldiers and other personnel had to walk around in full protective gear. That lasted about three months.
“I heard it was so bad they would choose one person to go pick up chow and bring it back,” said Banks, 35, of New Baltimore, Mich.
It’s a little quieter today, but this dusty outpost in southeastern Baghdad tends to attract more enemy activity than most U.S. installations. In mid-November, Rustamiyah was peppered with 16 rockets in 40 minutes. Other bases also got hit that day in what appeared to be a coordinated attack.
Remarkably, there were no casualties here.
“It was freaky,” Banks recalled. “People were cowered down inside the bunkers. It’s amazing no one got hurt. It was a miracle.”