U.S. Troops And The Iraqi Police

Iraqi police officer training with American MPs in Ghazalihyah, Iraq, March 25, 2007. (Laganga photo for Pizzey text)
By CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey, with photos by CBS News' Mark Laganga.

A cornerstone of the new security plan for Baghdad, and for hopes of pulling U.S. troops out of the country, is having Iraqi police and soldiers take over. The problem is that the cement to hold it in place is still being put in place, and there's a long way to go before it hardens.

The police station in the rundown and violence-ridden suburb of Ghazalihyah is a case in point.

Most days of the week, a convoy of Humvees leaves the relative safety of Camp Victory, the sprawling American base at Baghdad International Airport, and makes a perilous half-hour-or-so journey to the police station.

Members of the 410th MPs out of Fort Hood, Tex., take up guard positions at the gate and on the roof, and then try to assemble as many Iraqi police as they can for a training session.

Once they've rounded up enough of them, the first and most important thing is to make the policemen remove the clips from their AK47s and nine millimeter pistols, clear the breach and dry fire to ensure there are no rounds in the guns.

"The last thing we need," a sergeant on his third tour in Iraq says, "is an AD (accidental discharge)." He does not add, but implies, the idea of any one of his students with a loaded gun anywhere near him is almost as scary as driving to the police station.

It would be easier if the same police showed up every day, but continuity is more than the U.S. soldiers can hope for, so many times they have to go back to basics.

They do it by demonstrating a technique, and then having each student try to mimic them. On this particular day, Specialist Matthew Reed, a hulking man made even bigger by the body armour the U.S. troops don't take off (even though their students are wearing only their blue uniforms) is trying to show them how to move forward while covering the area in front of them by waving their AK47 in a box-like motion.

"Elbows in, feet straight ahead, point your body straight so you make a smaller target," he explains over and over again.

Some of the Iraqis get it right. And it has to be said that copying someone like Specialist Reed is harder to do when you are wearing loafers or dress shoes rather than combat boots like his. The U.S. soldiers would very much like to get proper boots for their students, but there is a snag somewhere in the pipeline. There's always a snag of some kind, somewhere, it seems.

That aside, all of the Iraqis appear to take the training seriously. Whether or not all of them are serious in their loyalty to the force and the government is another matter. It's one that worries the trainers, but over which they have no control. In the past some Iraqi police and soldier recruits have turned out to be insurgent sympathizers and even "moles."

Whatever they are, bringing them up to an acceptable standard is a slow process.

"Some of them don't seem to remember it from one day to the next," one of the soldiers said, "but they try, and they're definitely getting better."

Whether they can get good enough to do the job on their own soon enough to satisfy the growing clamour in the U.S. for American troops to leave them to it is another matter.

No one here is in any doubt that deadlines are more hopeful than realistic. A sergeant summed it up this way: "In time I think, hopefully another year or so, these guys will be ready to go and take the streets on their own so we don't have to be here any more."

Until then, the compound is being turned into what under the new security plan for Baghdad is called a "Joint Security Station," a fort where Iraqi and American police and soldiers will live and work together.

An example of how big a challenge that will be is evident in the front windshield of one of the police cars being hosed down in another part of the grounds. It has fourteen bullet holes in it. Not a single police vehicle in the parking lot is unscathed.

But then, one of the Humvees in the convoy that brought the MPs from the 410th to work has been blown up four times.

Risking their life is one thing both trainer and trainee definitely have in common here.
By Allen Pizzey