WASHINGTON—Too many of Iraq's new police officers are barely literate, some have shown up for training with criminal records, and the extent of insurgent infiltration in their ranks is largely unknown, according to a new U.S. government report issued Monday.
Inspectors from the State Department and Pentagon, who spent five weeks in Iraq this spring evaluating police training, also found that most of the training had been designed and carried out with too little input from Iraqi leaders.
The inspectors agreed with recommendations from Iraq's Interior Ministry and international trainers that Iraqis would be better able to screen police recruits than foreign soldiers would. They further suggested that the program should be focused on training police already in the ranks, rather than simply adding more.
The U.S.-led coalition plans to train 135,000 new Iraqi police by the end of 2006. Turning more of the country over to Iraq's nascent security forces is a cornerstone of the U.S. strategy for an eventual drawdown of American soldiers.
But "this emphasis on numbers overshadows the attention that should be given to the qualitative performance of those trained," the inspectors found.
A separate Pentagon report to Congress last week said 94,000 police and 77,300 soldiers have been trained and equipped so far in Iraq, but only a relative handful are capable of taking on insurgents.
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress recently that only two-thirds of Iraq's new army battalions and half of its police units are "partially capable" of conducting counterinsurgency operations. The other half of Iraq's police battalions are still forming and aren't capable of any operations, Pace said in a written statement.
The Bush administration is requesting $5.7 billion to train Iraqi police next year.
Though the State Department and Pentagon inspectors found significant faults with the police training effort, they also called it a "qualified success." They wrote that Iraq's police had performed well during January's elections and had become more visible on the streets and that public confidence in them was growing.
"Such indicators underscore the broader achievements of the training programs," the 100-page report said. "Whatever the problems and misgivings, there is consensus that the IPS (Iraqi Police Service) is improving and more capable because of coalition training."
Insurgents increasingly have turned their attacks from coalition troops to Iraqi police, killing at least 1,600 officers in the last year alone, according to the report. Many potential officers have been killed by suicide bombers outside recruiting centers while waiting to join up.
"Given the dangers involved, it is not surprising that every aspect of the training program has been difficult," the report said.
It noted that a number of American and other foreign trainers expressed serious doubts about the training program.
"We are preparing them for failure," the report quoted one unidentified officer as saying. Another said that it is "widely perceived that the police are under-trained and underpaid."
Iraqi police also have had a difficult time escaping their reputation for brutality and corruption under Saddam Hussein. International trainers frequently report "breakdowns in discipline, feuds among police units and prisoner abuse," the report said.
Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official who's now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research group, said training an effective Iraqi police force would take time.
"You are dealing with a force that was almost totally corrupt and passive under Saddam Hussein, and you're basically having to build it from the ground up," he said.
(The report is available in PDF format on the Defense Department inspector general Web site: http://www.dodig.mil.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.