Iraqi General Works to Transform National Police Few of Iraq's nascent security forces have been as reviled as the country's national police, which, critics say, has been infiltrated by death squads and is riddled with corruption. But the head of the beleaguered force is trying to turn it around.
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Iraqi General Works to Transform National Police

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Iraqi General Works to Transform National Police

Iraqi General Works to Transform National Police

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Few of Iraq's security forces are as reviled as the country's national police. There have been repeated calls for that force to be disbanded. Most of the 26,000 policemen are Shiites. And critics - American and Iraqi - say the force is riddled with corruption even infiltrated by death squads. Well, with some Western help, the head of the national police is trying to turn to the force around.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson visited the national police training facility southeast of Baghdad to see what's changed.

at this windswept training camp in the middle of nowhere. For the first time, there are as many Sunnis as Shiites training here to be national policemen. They come from towns all across Iraq, many of them recruited from Sunni tribes who are joining with U.S. and Iraqi forces to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. It is hoped the new class will help transform the national police into the force American and many Iraqi officials wanted in the first place - one that is professional, well-trained, and reflecting Iraq's religious and ethnic makeup; a force to, not only fight criminals and insurgents, but to protect the new, democratic Iraq against any potential military coup.

Still, Colonel David Boslego, the senior American adviser to the national police chief, says it's been tough to persuade Iraqis that the force has changed.

Colonel DAVID BOSLEGO (Senior American Adviser to the National Police Chief): So it is an uphill battle in that respect to overcome the bad reputation that had existed in the past and I think is being overturned by their current performance.

NELSON: Many of these cadets say they hope to change the image of Iraq's national police. All of the cadets interviewed say they want to help Iraq out of its sectarian quagmire.

Mr. HASSAN DAYA KADIM (Police Officer): (Arabic spoken)

NELSON: Like Hassan Daya Kadim, a Shiite and former army officer from volatile Diyala province. Kadim says he and his classmates want to make the national police force a symbol of hope for his people, one that roots out domestic and foreign terrorists alike.

Mr. NAZAR ABDULKARIM TAHAR (Police Officer): (Arabic spoken)

NELSON: Nazar Abdulkarim Tahar, a Sunni who hails from western Anbar province, adds that he had no qualms about joining the largely Shiite force. He says all of the trainees here get along well whatever their religious or ethnic affiliation. They sleep in the same dormitories, eat in the same chow hall, and pray in the same mosque.

The new, integrated class is the brainchild of Iraqi Major General Hussein al Awadi who heads the national police force. Since assuming his post in late 2006, Awadi says he's fired some 9,000 officers and commanders to eliminate death squads and corruption within his ranks.

Major General HUSSEIN AL AWADI (Head of National Police Force): (Through translator) Any new force that's created is going to have its share of problems. We were in a hurry, so there wasn't time to develop good training. But we are working hard to correct all of this.

Unidentified Man #1: (Arabic spoken)

NELSON: Back at the training base in Numaniyah, cadets practice raiding homes. They call out police three times in Arabic before bursting into concrete, two-storey buildings. Things don't go smoothly at first, like when the cadets fail to provide cover for each other during the search.

Australian trainer John Clay critiques the cadets' performance for them with the help of a translator.

Unidentified Man #2: (Arabic spoken)

NELSON: So the mistakes they're making, is this common for, like, the first day of practical versus…

Mr. JOHN CLAY (Trainer): Oh, definitely, yeah. They just started so. If we were learning this back in Australia or the States or something, you'd be doing it for a week, a week of learning how to clear a building, to clear a house properly. It's - we're trying to fit a lot in a short time.

NELSON: The cadets will spend 12 weeks in training before they are deployed. But already, the new program has softened some of the vocal critics of the Iraqi national police…

Mr. OMAR AL JUBOURI (Head of Islamic Party's Human Rights Office): (Arabic spoken)

NELSON: …like Omar al Jubouri, who heads the Islamic Party's human rights office. He tells NPR that the national police force, like all of Iraq's security forces, is improving with the incorporation of Sunni recruits, and that Iraqi General Awadi has done a lot to heal national wounds. But Jubouri worries that progress will be fleeting unless the Iraqi government codifies the diversity and new standards the national police force commander has introduced.

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