Saturday, June 6, 2009

Iraq police prepare for new responsibilities

Iraqi police are preparing to take charge of security in most of the country's cities as US troops withdraw from urban centers on June 30, but the Iraqi army will help in the most dangerous areas, a senior security official said.

With just weeks to go before Iraqi security forces take sole control of the country's cities, towns and villages, the interior ministry unveiled the main features of a strategy that will see 500,000 police officers deployed across the country.

Eight (provinces) are our sole responsibility and seven others will fall under the joint responsibility of security forces from the defence and interior ministries," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf said.

The army will support the police in the provinces based on Iraq's three main cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, in the predominantly Sunni Arab western province of Al-Anbar, in Diyala and Salaheddin provinces north of the capital and in Karbala to its south.

Khalaf said troops were being deployed in those seven provinces either because of the continuing insecurity of their main towns, or because of their economic or religious significance.

In the case of Baghdad, 70 percent of the capital falls under our control, and the rest will be secured by the army," Khalaf said. "We will fill the vacant space left by the departure of the Americans.

We can, according to the agreement, ask for the presence of American forces to help us but we have not yet done so, even in Mosul and Diyala," he said, referring to a defense pact between Baghdad and Washington that has governed the presence of US troops since the start of the year.

Insurgents loyal to Al-Qaeda remain active in both Mosul and Diyala, where levels of violence are much higher than most of the rest of the country.

In the past three years, the interior ministry has accelerated the formation of the police force, helped in part by a priority allocation in this year's budget.

In the run-up to the June 30 deadline, the process has quickened further -- 11,000 new police officers took their oaths of allegiance in May.

Nine divisions have been deployed-four made up of national police, including elite troops, and five of border guards.

The force numbers will give Iraq a ratio of one police officer for every 134 inhabitants. By comparison, France has one police officer for every 252 inhabitants and Canada one for every 537.

The Iraqi security forces will also gradually take responsibility for patrolling the country's 3,600 kilometres (2,250 miles) of borders, where some 700 observation posts have been erected.

By mid-2010, we hope to control the entire border with Iran," Khalaf said. Interior ministry officials have said that Shiite militias continue to smuggle arms across Iraq's eastern frontier but Khalaf insisted that the western border with Syria was now well secured.

Where once there was "one border post every 15 km, there is now one every 1.5 km," he said. US Colonel Bryan Bequette said: "We are proud of the accomplishments the ministry of interior has achieved with its training program.

He said the program had moved Iraq "toward the goal of police primacy, where the Iraqi police maintain primary responsibility... in the cities." Khalaf acknowledged that the Iraqi police still had some deficiencies.

We lack equipment for air support, arms and other military equipment provided by the United States," he said. But he added: "I don't think the threat will evolve-the attacks remain urban, and against the Iraqi population. The terrorists will not exclusively target American soldiers." --- AFP

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