U.S. soldiers fold their flag as they prepare to hand over a base to Iraqi forces in Basra in June. (ATEF HASSAN/REUTERS)

That day is fast approaching.


Iraqi leaders still haven’t decided whether they want to extend a three-year security agreement beyond the end of the year, and if they don’t make a formal request by Dec. 31, all U.S. troops and equipment will pack up and leave. In their wake, the State Department plans to deploy about 17,000 American diplomats and security personnel across Iraq, comprising its largest diplomatic presence in the world — and the largest contingent of federal employees and contractors outside the United States.

But the expensive and daunting military-to-civilian transition in Iraq is expected to face close scrutiny from cost-conscious members of Congress eager to avoid further waste and abuse in wartime contracting. Officials with the departments of defense and state on Wednesday are slated to provide an update on the ongoing transition and spending plans at a House subcommittee hearing on national security and foreign operations.

Much of the State Department’s work in Iraq will focus on advising Iraqi security officials on rebuilding the country’s beleagured 600,000-strong police force, still lagging far behind in terms of technology and training after years of isolation under Saddam Hussein. State is asking for $1 billion in fiscal 2012 and hopes to keep the program operational for five years.

Officials familiar with the plans concede, however, that the police advisory program may not last beyond three years. A lack of recruits willing to earn between $100,000 and $150,000 annually for their expertise also means the program is beginning with about 120 advisers, down from the original goal of 190, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Much of State’s budget request is to pay security contractors to transport and protect the police advisers as they travel to about 30 sites across the country for meetings.

In a nod to the hefty budget request, Undersecretary of State Patrick F. Kennedy is set to tell the commitee that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection,” according to Kennedy’s prepared testimony.

Over the course of the eight-year war and military occupation, thousands of U.S. troops devoted considerable time and effort to wooing and training police recruits, but Iraqi officials often faulted the United States for not providing much more than basic police skills.

Akeel Saeed, inspector general of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said the U.S. military was too often “implementing what they wanted, without acknowledging what the Iraqis wanted.”

A poster depicting "Uncle Sam" is seen as U.S. Army soldiers from the 49th Military Police Brigade pack up and prepare to leave Camp Victory in Baghdad in July. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

That’s exactly what the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs hopes to do. This month, dozens of former U.S. police chiefs and investigators began meeting with Iraqi counterparts, with plans to focus on developing a deeper understanding of modern arrest, investigative and interrogation techniques, how to integrate advanced DNA analysis into murder investigations, and how to use K-9 dogs and female recruits in pursuit of clues and criminals.

“Basic training is completed; we’ve turned that over to the Iraqis,” said Bob Gifford, who’s leading the program and once led similar police advisory teams across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. “We’re focused on providing senior-level expertise, with the purpose of advising and mentoring and being available for consultations with senior Iraqi police officials and ministry officials as they go the next step and further develop their own system.”

Gifford and his team will serve as a de facto consulting firm, “but we’re going to be a little more hands on,” he said. “We’re not just going to come in, write a report and leave. We’re going to stay.”

Most of Gifford’s team climbed the ranks of American police forces — writing traffic tickets in Northern Virginia, investigating drug crimes in San Francisco, or serving as chief of the Alaska State Troopers and fielding media inquiries about Sarah Palin’s official gubernatorial travels — before joining U.S. police training teams in countries including Kosovo, Lebanon, India and Liberia.

“We don’t want to be seen as a continuation of the occupation,” said one of the officers, whose name is being withheld at the request of the State Department for security reasons. “We’re here at [the Iraqis’] request; we’re here to provide whatever advice we can from having worked through decades of change in law enforcement and administration and technology. Right now they’re looking at making a great leap from about 30 years ago.”

Saeed, the Interior Ministry official, is ready for the training to begin.

The American advisers “should sit with the Iraqis to listen to their thoughts and ideas, listen to their demands and to tell Iraqis what they think,” he said. “If they do that, we’ll have a successful training program.”

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

In Iraq’s Anbar province, unfinished business?

The mechanics of a 131-mile battalion relocation (Video)

In Iraq, two U.S. mothers with a mission

For more Iraq news, visit washingtonpost.com/world