WASHINGTON — American commanders are stepping up efforts to train Iraq police officers, shifting 2,000 coalition personnel to the effort, including military police, according to a security transition spokesman in Baghdad.

First reported in The New York Times on Monday as involving 2,000 military police personnel, the new mission is one of the most extensive efforts yet to team Americans with uniformed Iraqis.

“It’s not just MPs,” said Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, spokesman for the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. “It’s international police liaison officers, it’s linguists, it’s civilian police trainers” in addition to military police, who will work side by side with Iraqi police to make them self-reliant.

About 80,000 local police officers across Iraq are now certified as trained and equipped, the goal being 135,000 by early 2007.

Senior commanders, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American officer in Iraq, have vowed to make 2006 “the year of the police” in what the Times described as a tacit acknowledgment that corruption, ineptitude and infiltration in the Iraqi police forces stand in the way of any plan to draw down U.S. troops.

American commanders have complained that armed militia have infiltrated the police department in Basra.

“There’s no question there have been cases” of infiltration, said Wellman. But if the problem were widespread, he said, “you’d see a lot more guys in uniform blowing things up than you do. You did see that in Basra, but the [Iraqi Interior Ministry] disbanded that unit.”

Commanders also are concerned about the recurrence of a police failure such as in November 2004, when a 5,000-man force in Mosul deserted in the face of a militant uprising, sending Iraq’s second-largest city into chaos.

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week in Washington, President Bush noted the need for more and better-trained Iraqi police.

“The training of the Iraqi police is an enormous task and it — frankly, it hasn’t always gone smoothly,” he said. “By strengthening local police in these cities, we can help Iraqis provide security in areas cleared of enemy forces and make it harder for these thugs to return.”

Soldiers from the 49th Military Police Brigade, an Army National Guard unit with headquarters in Fairfield, Calif., will lead the effort, the Times reported and Wellman confirmed.

The units will be assigned to police stations in nine major cities — Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Najaf, Babil, Kirkuk, Baqouba, Samarra and Mosul — as well as to dozens of provincial and district headquarters.

The police transition teams will consist of 12 to 24 members, each with military police, civilian police trainers and linguists involved, Wellman said.

Senior American officers have said that their goal has long been to train Iraqi police officers so they can take over law enforcement duties in the coming months from Iraqi Army units who are now relieving American troops.

“We’re trying to develop the police capability to the point where, by the end of 2006, we can begin the transfer to civil security,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, the top American police trainer in Iraq, told the Times in a recent interview at his headquarters in Baghdad.

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up