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The main thing under study in Iraq is how to survive. In Iraq's al-Anbar province, thousands of men have signed up to become police but there are not enough academies to train them. So instead the national government has sanctioned the creation of extra neighborhood security teams. They're made up largely of former Sunni tribal militias who now support American forces.

NPR's Rachel Martin has the story.

RACHEL MARTIN: On an open dirt field, just a few miles outside the U.S. base in Fallujah, about 50 Iraqi men dressed in dusty green uniforms march in formation while their Iraqi drill leader shouts instructions.

(Soundbite of training)

MARTIN: They're part of the new provincial security force in al-Anbar province, trained by U.S. forces. The men line up and listen to an explanation of the today's drill - an obstacle course and firing exercise. Almost all the men in this class are from the same tribe - the Jumali - and these teambuilding exercises are meant to leverage that bond.

One of the trainers, Marine Sergeant Tony Storey, addresses the troops.

Sergeant TONY STOREY (Trainer, U.S. Marines): What I require from you as a platoon is that you get out and you support these men because they are a member of this team, of this family. You understand?

MARTIN: A lot of these trainees were in the police or the army under Saddam Hussein. Some were part of Sunni tribal militias that until recently were linked to insurgent groups fighting the U.S. Most were recruited by local Sunni sheikhs who now have agreed to help American troops fight al-Qaida.

Qosai Abid is a 30-year-old father of two from Fallujah. For years he and his family lived in fear of the killing and banditry that insurgents waged on his community. Abid says the sheikhs made the right move.

Mr. QOSAI ABID (Resident, Fallujah): (Through Translator) The tribes have joined hands to fight terrorism against the injustice that was rife in this area. And now with God's will we will join them and we will be the front armor to help secure this entire region.

MARTIN: U.S. officers in Anbar say these provincial teams are becoming the eyes and ears of U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts, helping identify militants in their local communities.

Chief Warrant Officer THOMAS VASQUEZ (U.S. Marine): They know exactly what these guys - first of all, what they look like, where they're from, and they know who belongs and who doesn't.

MARTIN: Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Vasquez is a native of New York City, and he helps oversee this training program.

Chief Warrant Officer VASQUEZ: The closest thing that they - these guys would be would probably a police reserve...

MARTIN: Okay.

Chief Warrant Officer VASQUEZ: ...that we have back home. That's the closest thing that they resemble.

MARTIN: And these guys would go into action under what circumstances?

Chief Warrant Officer VASQUEZ: Well, they'd fill out the shifts, you know, as an auxiliary. So as missions come up they are also tapped into that, to fulfill that. So these guys actually do get a good bit of action, actually.

MARTIN: For now, these men get only eight days of training and at the end of it they get to keep their gun and their uniform. The idea is that eventually this second-string police force will go through the full training at the al-Anbar police academy, which opened a few weeks ago.

Developing the Iraqi police has been a top priority for U.S. forces.

Colonel RICHARD SIMCOCK (U.S. Marines): Police here - they're my exit strategy.

MARTIN: Colonel Richard Simcock commands a combat regiment based in Fallujah.

Col. SIMCOCK: It's just like home. I mean, if you woke up in your hometown and saw the National Guard walking up and down your street, you'd know things aren't good. Same here. I mean, they don't want to see Iraqi army in downtown Fallujah. They don't want to see coalition forces in downtown Fallujah. But if you see a police officer on the corner, that's a good thing.

MARTIN: But getting a professional police force up and running has been difficult. There is a lot of talk in Anbar about corruption within the police force. The governor of the province says the police are unreliable and operate with their own agendas. As of now there are 21,000 police for all of Anbar province, which is roughly the size of the state of Utah.

Colonel Simcock says till more police academies are built, the alternative is to use these provincial security teams made up of untrained Iraqis with a history of shady alliances.

Col. SIMCOCK: I think it's a short-term fix, but it is a fix in a time of crisis to get more people involved legally through a justified system in lieu of making them police just because we don't have enough academies to pump them through that way.

MARTIN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has criticized American efforts to augment the police force. He says the U.S. is arming Sunni militias that could easily turn against the coalition and Shiites and stir up sectarian violence. U.S. commanders here insist that's not the case and that these troops are committed to fighting al-Qaida.

Qosai Abid says his wife questioned his decision to join the U.S. effort out of fear for his safety.

Mr. ABID: (Through translator) I told her that terrorism is over and with God's help we will finally be happy. Injustice cannot last forever. What lasts is justice and commitment.

MARTIN: U.S. forces are hoping that commitment lasts long enough for Iraqi security forces like these to stand on their own so that eventually coalition forces can stand down.

(Soundbite of chanting)

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Baghdad.

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