Self-Sufficiency Still Eludes Domestic Security Forces

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 9, 2008

BAGHDAD -- Lt. Col. Kadhem Jabar Kadhem, a veteran of Saddam Hussein's army, has the swagger of the top cop in the sprawling Dora market, one of Baghdad's most dangerous areas until U.S. soldiers ousted insurgents last year.

"Ever since we came here, we've controlled the security by ourselves," boasted the corpulent, mustachioed national police commander, surrounded by a dozen Iraqi officers in new gray-blue uniforms.

And yet, even as he spoke, a U.S. Army unit with a crane was lowering concrete barriers into place to protect his police station, at the market's edge. Kadhem looked startled when asked about the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal, which could pick up speed given President-elect Barack Obama's plan to remove most combat troops within 16 months of taking office.

"Personally, I need the American forces to stay," Kadhem said softly, fingering his string of orange worry beads and describing how U.S. forces helped with equipment and services. "The Iraqi government is still weak."

The blast walls around Kadhem's station stand as symbols of continuing U.S. efforts to strengthen the Iraqi security forces so they can keep order by themselves. The U.S. government has spent more than $20 billion on building a new Iraqi military and police force, and both sides report considerable progress. But the Iraqi units still depend heavily on Americans for training, logistics and other assistance.

With violence down dramatically, U.S. forces are trying to boost the confidence and image of the Iraqi security forces by mentoring and training troops and officers, and by mounting public-relations campaigns. The goal is for citizens to seek the protection of the Iraqi forces, instead of militias or insurgent groups, as the Americans depart.

"That's the key -- if people have confidence in the security forces to provide security for them. That the people don't feel . . . they're sectarian. That they're there to support all the people," said Lt. Col. Troy Smith, commander of the 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

Smith's squadron has been assisting the Iraqi police in southern Baghdad since March. In his previous deployment in the area, in 2006, Sunni and Shiite insurgents battled each other and U.S. forces with mortars, machine guns and bombs. The police were of no help, he recalled.

"They were horrible. They were the militia in a lot of cases," said Smith, 44, an officer from Woodbridge chomping on an unlit cigar.

This year, Smith said, he has noticed a dramatic change. The Interior Ministry has cleaned house, firing or transferring most top national police commanders and dismissing more than 11,000 officers. Although some corrupt police officers remain, Smith said, "as an organization, they're no longer sectarian."

Many Iraqis, however, think otherwise.

Last month, a car bomb exploded in a market in Abu Dsheer, a Shiite neighborhood in Smith's area, killing 14 people. Officers from a mostly Sunni national police brigade rushed to the scene.

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