A key piece of America’s enduring presence in Iraq — a multimillion-dollar program to train police forces — could become a “bottomless pit” for taxpayer funding if officials fail to adequately assess the needs of Iraqi security forces and obtain assurances from Iraqi officials about the program’s future, according to a new federal watchdog report.
Since 2003, the United States has spent about $8 billion to train, staff and equip Iraqi police forces. With the U.S. military preparing to leave Iraq at the end of December, responsibility for the police training program transferred to the State Department this month. The department has requested $887 million to continue operating the program this fiscal year.
But a government report set for release Monday found that the department is spending just 12 percent of money allocated for the program on advising Iraqi police officials, with the “vast preponderance” of funds going toward the security, transportation and medical support of the 115 police advisers hired for the program. When U.S. troops leave, thousands of private security guards are expected to provide protection for the thousands of diplomats and contractors set to stay behind. For security reasons, the State Department has declined to specify the cost and size of its anticipated security needs.
In the report, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., head of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, accuses State Department officials of withholding critical budgetary and operational information, which he said prevented his team from completing a full audit of the police program.
Bowen’s office said the report is 200th SIGIR audit of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
Over the summer, the report said, State Department officials provided brief documents and PowerPoint slides detailing plans for the police training program. In September, the report said, officials provided a final collection of documents and slides with updated goals, staffing projections and descriptions of preliminary training plans.
Despite the new documents, a comprehensive and detailed plan “is still lacking,” the report said.
In response, officials with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said a new assessment of Iraqi police forces should be completed by next month. The bureau, which is overseeing the training program, also said it is drafting new plans for the program. But efforts to secure a formal agreement with the Iraqi government are hampered by the lack of a permanent Iraqi interior minister, bureau officials said in a written response included in the SIGIR report.
Over the course of the eight-year-old war and military occupation, thousands of U.S. troops have spent considerable time and effort wooing and training police recruits, but Iraqi officials have often accused the United States of not providing much more than basic training.
In an August interview, Akeel Saeed, inspector general of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said that in the past, the U.S. military was too often “implementing what they wanted, without acknowledging what the Iraqis wanted.”
In response, the State Department has hired dozens of former U.S. police chiefs and investigators to advise senior Iraqi police officials on modern arrest, investigative and interrogation techniques; how to integrate advanced DNA analysis into murder investigations; and how to perform basic office managerial tasks, including payroll.
“Basic training is completed; we’ve turned that over to the Iraqis,” Bob Gifford, who is overseeing the new program, said in an August interview. “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.”
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 members 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 travels during her gubernatorial tenure — before joining U.S. police training teams in places such as 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.”
But Adnan al-Asadi, a senior deputy minister overseeing Iraqi police forces at the Iraqi Interior Ministry, is quoted in SIGIR’s report as questioning the need for the new round of training.
“What tangible benefit will Iraqis see from this police training program?” Asadi said. “With most of the money spent on lodging, security, support, all the [Interior Ministry] gets is a little expertise, and that is if the program materializes.”
Asadi suggested that the United States “take the program money and the overhead money and use it for something that can benefit the people of the United States.”