Iraqis Need Better Security Recruits, Report Says

A joint study by inspectors general for the Pentagon and State Department says Iraq's police service needs to do a better job of recruiting. The 96-page report released Monday said poor vetting procedures have admitted recruits with criminal backgrounds and even insurgents planning terrorist attacks.

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Investigators from the State and Defense departments have found serious problems in Iraq's American-trained police force. A new report says many police recruits are marginally literate, many have criminal records, and some are working with the enemy. Here's NPR's Eric Westervelt.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

The report's criticisms are blunt. Faulty and inadequate vetting has resulted in too many recruits with criminal records, literacy problems and physical handicaps. Even more troubling, the report says, is, quote, "infiltration by intending terrorists or insurgents. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that such persons indeed are among the ranks of the Iraqi Police Service," end quote. Iraqi police stations and car patrols are daily targets of insurgent attacks, including a deadly attack on a police garrison in Baghdad on Monday. Officials in the State and Defense departments' inspectors general office declined to talk about the new report on tape, saying it speaks for itself.

In Iraq, Colonel Richard Swengros leads the 42nd Military Police Brigade and heads the US police partnership training program. Colonel Swengros concedes that some Iraqi police units may have been infiltrated, but he's mostly seen raw intimidation.

Colonel RICHARD SWENGROS (42nd Military Police Brigade): Their families are threatened with their lives, and they've seen both their fellow police and their fellow police families gunned down. And I think you see more of that than you see of somebody deliberately planning and being part of an insurgent group.

WESTERVELT: The joint report says the infiltration underscores the need for the most rigorous review of each applicant's records. Almost since the start of the US occupation of Iraq, American officials in Baghdad and Washington said that adequate vetting is almost impossible in Iraq, given the lack of databases. But the report notes that the criminal identification laboratory and crime bureau database in Baghdad survived the post-invasion looting. Iraqis told investigators for the inspectors general that, quote, "more information is available than previously presumed by coalition members."

The report chides the now-defunct US Coalition Provisional Authority for setting up large police training programs without significant input from Iraqi officials. The report says an emphasis on the number of recruits, a goal of 135,000 by the end of next year, has overshadowed attention to the quality of those trained. The authors note numerous anecdotal accounts of serious breakdowns in police discipline, petty corruption, feuds among police units, ghost employees who don't show up for work and abuse of prisoners in police custody. The report warns that unless reforms are implemented and the Iraqi Ministry of Interior takes full responsibility for police training programs, quote, "The coalition is destined to fall short in creating an effective police force."

Colonel Swengros, who works with the Iraqi police every day, concedes there are challenges ahead, but he says he has seen improvements over the last eight months. For example, there's now a program to improve recruits' reading and writing skills so they can pass a literacy test before entering the training academy. Moreover, he says, the police are gaining confidence in themselves.

Col. SWENGROS: Back in November, they were running from the terrorists.

WESTERVELT: These days, he says, he can point to several attacks on Iraqi police stations where outgunned police stood their ground until Iraqi backup arrived.

Col. SWENGROS: And then they chased after the terrorists, capturing and killing them. That would not have happened many months ago, but it's happening now and it's happening more frequently.

WESTERVELT: The report comes as relentless violence in Iraq continues to underscore the strength and adaptability of Iraqi insurgents. The report makes 30 recommendations, including a call to turn over all vetting of police to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and to emphasize in-service training of current police.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Washington.

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