Progress of Iraq's Army, Police Inspires Optimism Last year, President Bush sent more U.S. troops to Iraq, hoping the move would help Iraq's army and police take over their own security. In September, a report concluded that Iraqi forces were still dysfunctional. Now, some on the ground say the security forces are improving.
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Progress of Iraq's Army, Police Inspires Optimism

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Progress of Iraq's Army, Police Inspires Optimism

Progress of Iraq's Army, Police Inspires Optimism

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The U.S. effort in Iraq over the past year had one overriding goal - to buy time. The hope was that more troops would provide more security, which meant more time for a political solution. It would also mean more time to prepare Iraq to take over its own security. So this morning we'll conclude our reports on the so-called surge by asking how Iraq's security forces have used the time.

NPR's Corey Flintoff recently spent some time with the Iraqi army and police.

(Soundbite of marching band)

COREY FLINTOFF: Plumes of dust scut across the parade ground at Camp Besmaya, an Iraqi army base in the desert south of Baghdad and smokes from the boots of soldiers passing in review before Iraq's Minister of Defense Abdul Qadir al-Mufriji.

(Soundbite of marching band)

FLINTOFF: The troops march in the close ranks of a newly formed brigade, trained, equipped, and according to U.S. officers, ready to take the field as part of the country's 152,000 member army.

Major ALSTON MIDDLETON (U.S. Marine): We have a long way to go, make no mistake.

FLINTOFF: Alston Middleton is a marine major.

Maj. MIDDLETON: But I also see the training that's going on, and the units that are coming through are getting a lot more confident, and they're really starting to put a good army together.

FLINTOFF: Training was a key problem listed in the so-called Jones Report, an assessment of the Iraqi security forces that was led by retired Marine General James Jones.

The report said in September that Iraq's army wasn't ready to defend the country and wouldn't be ready for more than a year. But it said the army was getting better.

One of the VIPs watching the ceremony is Brigadier General Robin Swan, the commander of the Military Assistance Training Team. He says the Iraqi army has come a long way since September.

Brigadier General ROBIN SWAN (U.S. Army Commander, Military Assistance Training Team): The brigade that just preceded this one was formed and trained in about a month and a half, and they are currently in the area of operations in Baghdad, and they're conducting patrols, they're working with coalition forces, and they're doing quite well.

FLINTOFF: Defense Minister Mufriji told reporters that his immediate goal was to build Iraq's military to the point where it can replace the U.S.-led occupation forces without leaving any gaps in security. Mufriji told his troops at the graduation ceremony that what he wants from them is performance and fidelity to a unified Iraq, welded together by all its ethnic groups.

Mr. ABDUL QADIR al-MUFRIJI (Iraqi Minister of Defense, Iraq): (Unintelligible)

FLINTOFF: The new brigade commander leads his troops in an oath of loyalty to the state.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking in Arabic)

(Soundbite of crowd)

FLINTOFF: While the Ministry of Defense and the Iraqi army got a mixed grade in the Jones Report in September, the investigators had no reservations about the Ministry of Interior and its national police force. The reviews were uniformly bad.

To quote a key passage: "The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It's widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian and suffers from ineffective leadership."

For the past year and a half, the leadership of the ministry has been provided by the Shiite politician Jawad al-Bolani. Bolani acknowledges that the ministry hasn't always had clean hands, but he insists that he's been making steady progress.

Mr. JAWAD al-BOLANI: I'm telling you the cleaning process is going on.

FLINTOFF: Bolani also argues that his ministry manages tens of thousand of police and firefighters who've been front-line responders to every terrorist attack. He says his men have taken the brunt of casualties.

Bolani inherited a lot of problems, the greatest of which may have been the 25,000-member national police, a quasi-military organization designed to fight terrorism and help counter the insurgency.

The Jones Report said the national police was too riddled with crime, too deeply intertwined with Shiite death squads to ever be reformed.

Major General ALESSANDRO POMPEGNANI (Italian Army): General Jones say that the national police should be disbanded for many reasons, including corruption, including infiltration and so on, which probably was true at that time.

FLINTOFF: This is Alessandro Pompegnani, a major general in the Italian army and the deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq.

Maj. Gen. POMPEGNANI: We are confident that the national police could not be disbanded, but differently educated.

FLINTOFF: Pompegnani wears confidence the way he wears his sweeping white mustachios, but he's backed up by trainers from one of the toughest police forces in Europe, Italy's Carabinieri.

Even though he didn't accept the Jones commission's recommendation to disband the national police, American commanders such as Lieutenant General James Dubik say Interior Minister Bolani has been aggressively cleaning house in his police agencies.

Lieutenant General JAMES DUBIK (U.S. Army): He just, in October alone, fired almost 200 policemen. He's changed out the commanders of both national police divisions, nine of 10 brigade commanders, either retired them or not.

FLINTOFF: The U.S. general says the interior minister is paying a steep price for his reforms. Some of his key assistants have been assassinated.

Dubik argues that it will take time to root out corruption and sectarianism in the police. It may take a lot more time to change the perceptions of ordinary Iraqis, many of whom have learned to fear their national police.

Ahmed Ali Nasr is a former army officer, but at 47 he's now unemployed. He rejects claims that the national police are being reformed.

Mr. AHMED ALI NASR (Former Iraqi Army Officer): (Through translator) This is just something they say for the media. They claim 15,000 police have been dismissed. That's a lie. You show me one policeman who's been kicked out because of corruption.

FLINTOFF: Not everyone agrees. Radwan Shakir is 24 and he operates his own small grocery story. He says he's more inclined to trust the national police than he used to be.

Mr. RADWAN SHAKIR: (Through translator) We used to avoid national police checkpoints, but now the police are bringing in good people and getting rid of the bad ones.

FLINTOFF: Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani issues an invitation and a challenge to General Jones.

Mr. BOLANI: (Through translator) I'm calling upon Mr. Jones again to come over here and to check about his report - the last report - and right now, because right now it's a huge difference has been made.

FLINTOFF: The timing of the invitation is symbolic. Yesterday was Iraq's Police Day, a yearly holiday to honor law enforcement.

Earlier this week, Iraqis also saw a larger-than-usual turnout for marches and events marking National Army Day, a day that was marred by a bombing that killed several soldiers and civilians at a commemoration ceremony.

Iraqis have been waiting a long time for something to honor in their security forces.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

INSKEEP: You can hear other stories in this series about the effects of the U.S. troop surge and you can also read an analysis of President Bush's January 2007 speech announcing that strategy simply by going to our Web site,

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