Problems plaguing the Iraqi police are continuing to forestall the reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, requiring the American military to maintain a higher profile there, the U.S. general directing the war said Wednesday.
Iraqi army units have slowly become better trained and disciplined. But the police, who make up one-third of Iraq’s security forces, have made fewer gains and are more prone to corruption, said Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command.
“The police and the Ministry of Interior ... are probably behind in terms of sophistication, chain of command, cohesion of leadership,” Abizaid said in an interview with a group of reporters at the Pentagon.
The lag in creating a capable Iraqi police force has caused a chain reaction of delays, Abizaid said. “It delays MOD [Iraqi Ministry of Defense] forces going out and doing the external security mission, and that keeps American embedded trainers and embedded transition teams in the field longer.”
The U.S. military has tried to gradually pull back from leading the fight against the insurgency and switch to supporting Iraqi forces. Under that strategy, Iraqi police and other Interior Ministry personnel would provide security within Iraq’s borders. The Iraqi army and other Defense Ministry personnel would turn their attention to external threats from other countries and foreign fighters.
None of those changes can occur until the police can hold their ground, officials said. Defense officials are still evaluating the size of the U.S. military force that will be required next year, and it remains unclear how the lack of adequate police will affect that number, officials said.
“Ultimately the police become more important in the final stages of the insurgency than the military,” Abizaid said.
The Bush administration says the Iraqi police are adequately trained and equipped, a view not shared by U.S. commanders in Iraq.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon and State Department official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said the new Iraqi police force was not set up to fight an insurgency and had to be redesigned by U.S.-led trainers beginning last June. Some police still do not have adequate weapons and equipment when they face armed insurgents, he said.
“You need police that can deal with the insurgency,” Cordesman said. “And that begins to look today a lot more like the end of 2005 or sometime in 2006 than something that’s likely to be quick or helpful soon to U.S. or Iraqi military forces.”
Police account for most of the 1,850 Iraqi security personnel who have been killed so far, according to a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the number.