State Department denies negative report on Iraq police training

Iraqi police march during a graduation ceremony. Iraqi police march during a graduation ceremony. Hadi Mizban/AP

The State Department has rebutted a New York Times report that a six-month-old program to train Iraqi police in the still violent country may be canceled due to a lack cooperation from the government of Iraq.

The Times story, published on the front page of the Sunday paper, quoted diplomats saying the program could fall victim to the same threats of insurgent attacks that have confined the mobility of U.S. personnel and hampered the handoff of local authority from the U.S. military to State to Iraqi nationals. The program, which already has cost $500 million, involves U.S. security advisers providing educational seminars for indigenous police trainees

“Despite a New York Times report to the contrary, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Department of State have no plans to shut down the Police Development Program in Iraq that began in October 2011,” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement.

“The Iraqi government and the State Department regularly review the size and scope of our law enforcement assistance efforts to ensure that these programs best meet the needs of Iraq’s security forces,” said embassy spokesman Michael McClellan.

Calling the police program “a vital part of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship and an effective means of standing by our Iraqi friends,” McClellan said the program is built around forensic techniques and law enforcement methods, but also factors in “the proper role of the police in a democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As such, it contributes to both security and the strengthening of democratic institutions. All of these programs are jointly developed with the Iraqi government to ensure that programs and training are professionally relevant.”

Critics have charged the training content is not always useful for Iraqis. For example, a former U.S. official in Iraq told the newspaper local police might be taught to identify a coming suicide bomber by spotting large withdrawals from a bank account and heavy drinking. The flaw in that thinking, the deputy said, is few Iraqis have bank accounts and most would consider drinking to be sinful.

Asked for comment, the Office of Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, referred Government Executive to its April quarterly report to Congress.

It said -- and the embassy confirmed -- that U.S. representatives in Iraq are leaving sites around the capital and relocating to the embassy compound. The police training is being performed by Homeland Security Department personnel from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard, the report said. In addition, the report counted 86 trainers -- less than half the number originally planned.

The police development program has run into problems “since its inception,” the report said, “including skepticism by some” in the Iraqi government that the police can travel to Ministry of Interior-controlled sites. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs acknowledged, the report said, that “those challenges may lead to further restructuring of the PDP in the near future.”

Jake Wiens, an investigator for the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, said, "The special IG for Iraq Reconstruction has been sounding the alarm about problems with the Iraqi police training program for some time. The State Department needs to take a serious look at this program and see if it's really worth the time and money to keep it going."

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