U.S. General Sees Progress in Training Iraqi Police

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli speaks with Steve Inskeep about the challenges of training Iraqi police and securing the peace.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This week, an American commander visited the border between Iran and Iraq. Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli inspected an Iraqi border fort. He glimpsed a country that preoccupies some soldiers. And then he returned her to Baghdad, where there is plenty to occupy the United States right now.

Chiarelli's troops are working this year to improve Iraq's police. At his headquarters last night, the general recalled his experience with the weak police force.

In 2004, Iraqi cops fled their stations in Sadr City, outside Baghdad. Eight of Chiarelli's soldiers were killed retaking those stations from the militia forces of Muqtada al-Sadir. That area's police fled again in 2005, just as U.S. forces tried to provide jobs for Sadr City residents.

Lieutenant General PETER CHIARELLI (United States Army, Iraq): We knew that that was the key, was to find employment for many of these folks who had joined the militia because, quite frankly, they had nowhere else to go. And when Muqtada al-Sadir, at that time, saw that we were having success - we were taking away his power base - he decided to start another fight that lasted for about three months. And during that time period, there were a number of days when we had to go back and take back police stations.

The real reason for that, was we didn't have the number of cops on the beat in Sadr City, and it was absolutely essential that we have police. And when we didn't, the militia took control and provides security for the people.

INSKEEP: Has that experience informed what you're trying to accomplish now?

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: Yes, it definitely has. We were always trying to get the police department set in Sadr City for the entire year I was there. I did not have the assets to do what we've been able to do with the Army today, and what we were able to do with the Army back then, to put into the individual police stations. This is a country that relies on relationships. And the idea of being able to go down into a police station and spend a day training those police, only to come back seven or eight days later to see if they are employing that which you have trained them, doesn't really work.

It takes time. It takes being down at that the police station every single day; gaining the trust and the confidence of the individuals that are in the police station; and showing them what they need to do, as far as community kind of policing. It's really kind of foreign to this part of the world - the idea that we have a community kind of policing.

INSKEEP: How do you know who you can trust?

Gen. CHIARELLI: Well, quite frankly, that is something that - a question I get asked quite often, but very infrequently have we ever had a problem like that. They're very receptive to the kinds of training techniques that we employ. They basically want to do a good job, and it doesn't take a heck of a lot, other than to gain their confidence, for them to understand the importance of what you're trying to teach them.

INSKEEP: Although, there must have been instances where there was a police official who was perfectly cooperative with the United States, but as time went on you began to learn that this person was also corrupt, or perhaps even criminal?

Gen CHIARELLI: We had a few of those. We had a few of those, and we worked with who I believe was a very good chief of police in Baghdad at the time I was here, Abdul Razak(ph), who was also here when I arrived early on in this tour. He has since left the police department. Who helped us ensure that when we found leaders like that, leaders that were corrupt, leaders that were working with the militia or with terrorists or foreign fighters; that they were removed from the police force.

INSKEEP: Are you confident that the police are on your side in every part of the country?

Gen. CHIARELLI: For the most part, yes.

INSKEEP: In every part of the country?

Gen. CHIARELLI: There's some portions of the country where that's less so, but the employment of the police training teams is changing all of that, and it's changing it rather rapidly. I'll give you a great example, Samara. I went up to Samara the day after the bombing of the Golden Dome. And at that time there were 900 policemen on the payroll, and 42 showing up for work.

The police force has all but evaporated. I went up there six weeks later and over 550 of them had returned to work. We had a new police chief, who was in fact doing just an outstanding job, and continues to do an outstanding job in Samara - reasserting the police back into the city in a role and in a way that is most helpful to the security of that city. I just wish it had been it place when the bombing took place.

INSKEEP: Is there something that is happening, in Iraq right now, that keeps you up at night?

Gen. CHIARELLI: There's a whole bunch of things in Iraq that keeps me up at night, but I am forever in awe of the American servicemen.

INSKEEP: Oh, come on, tell one of those things, tell me one of those things?

Gen. CHIARELLI: Well I'll tell you, the thing that concerns me the most is the ministerial capacity - the ability of this government to move beyond a formation phase. We've gone through a couple of governments. They've had a period of time where they have in fact been in charge. But that time has been dominated by a requirement to either write a constitution, prepare for an election, or have a referendum.

We finally have got past that and now we're going through the formation of a government under a new Prime Minister. I'm excited about the fact that we've got a government that can concentrate on governing; a government that I think well start to take on this whole issue of militias; come up with a militia policy that suits the needs of the government and makes the government those that control arms in this country, and not a bunch of groups that are often at odds with one another.

INSKEEP: Well, General Chiarelli, thanks very much.

Gen. CHIARELLI: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli spoke at his office, a former palace of Saddam Hussein. You can find an online journal of our travels in Iraq at npr.org. From Baghdad it's Morning Edition from NPR News.

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