Policing Iraq's Police

A U.S. military Humvee seen parked behind an Iraqi National Police truck at the "Site 6" National Police base in Baghdad, Feb. 8th, 2007.
CBS/Cami McCormick
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick, embedded with U.S. forces in Baghdad.

In an empty room at a police base, an Iraqi National Police lieutenant lays out his plan for a raid to arrest an alleged bomb-maker. He's drawn a diagram on the concrete floor and placed Styrofoam chunks where Iraqi vehicles will position themselves. Coke and Pepsi cans mark where the American backup vehicles will be.

U.S. Army Maj. Jeffrey Lopez questions him about how many vehicles he will take, which routes he'll use and asks when the suspect was last seen. Lopez also lectures him about security for the mission.

"This target is not a very big threat, but we're using this to practice for the bigger threats," Lopez tells him.

The American soldiers visit this police battalion almost daily, offering advice on everything from living arrangements on their base to planning raids and missions.

"They won't have fuel in their vehicles," said Capt. Geoffrey Cole. "Or they won't have batteries for their flashlights" for night raids.

"Their weakness is logistics," said Maj. Ryan King. "But they're very willing to do it, so that's a good strength. They're very courageous and willing to go out and do their job and take these guys out without the body armor and armored vehicles we have."




Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says more Iraqi police and soldiers will pour into the capital this week to stage security operations.

But while these Iraqi National Police may be enthusiastic, their motives are often questionable. The National Police force is still heavily influenced by Shiite militias.

"You can't be sure if the target you're going after is a good guy or a bad guy," Lopez said. "Most of the National Police are Shiite, so it's usually a Sunni target."

That's why the Americans are now over-seeing operations from the planning phase, to execution.

"None of the National Police are supposed to be conducting raids without their Transition Teams (American advisors)," Lopez said. "That means every target they go after, there should be an American involved. The reason is because they were going out and executing targets, some of them based on sectarian issues."

During the planning of this particular raid, the American soldiers ask that the informant be brought in. The Iraqi Lieutenant hesitates at first, but delivers him the next day. The frail, 70-year-old man sits down in an office with the American soldiers and tells them he has seen the suspect in areas immediately following bomb blasts. But he also reveals the suspect killed his two sons for refusing to join a militia.

Then the Americans learn the suspect may be an Iraqi policeman, as well as an ally to Coalition forces.

"If it's the same guy we think it is, he's an informant for our guys," says Lopez.

The suspect is not thought to belong to any militia group, and the Americans grow suspicious of the police lieutenant's motives, believing he may be loyal to the militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"You may have a guy who is giving information on JAM (the Jaysh al Mahdi Army) and you have senior guys from JAM who don't appreciate that and are trying to take him out," Lopez said.

Lopez calls the raid off and waits for more intelligence, this time from the U.S. military. That will take time.

"We don't have all of the systems we have in the States to track these people," Lopez said.

Without that technology, the soldiers will develop their own intelligence by embedding with the National Police. Americans will be moving in with the two police battalions at this headquarters.

Razor wire has gone up around the building where the U.S. soldiers will live, and a tank is parked outside.

"Basically, a little American compound within the police compound," said Maj. Ryan King.

Iraqis taking the lead role is a key part of al-Maliki's plan to clear neighborhoods and disarm militants, but U.S. forces will be backing them up, and watching the Iraqi police every step of the way.

Cami McCormick

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.