A senior U.S. general in Iraq says the suspension of an entire Iraqi police brigade on Wednesday demonstrates that the interior minister is serious about building an effective force. The general also says thousands of Iraqi policemen have been killed or wounded fighting insurgents. He spoke from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon, and VOA's Al Pessin reports.
Major General Joseph Peterson says the 700-member police brigade was removed from its front-line position in Baghdad because it allowed the kidnapping of 22 workers at a meat-packing plant. Seven of the men were later killed. Officials suspect brigade leaders were acting on the orders of the Shi'ite Mahdi Army Militia.
"I really believe that the minister's decision to withdraw the 8th brigade from their current mission in Baghdad, and to put them in a training status is very, very positive," General Peterson said. "And it will grow confidence, not only in the ministry, but also its forces."
General Peterson says the policemen will be put through a new training program, designed to give the para-military National Police more local policing skills and also a better understanding of the role of the police in a democratic society.
"As we take our brigades of the national police through this transformation training, we will continue to target the importance of being loyal to country, to the constitution and to the people of Iraq," he said.
General Peterson, who commands the coalition police training effort, also reports that, in the last two years, 4,000 Iraqi policemen have been killed in action, and another 8,000 have been wounded. He says the police are standing and fighting, rather than fleeing from insurgents, as some had done in the past.
He also reports that all the national police brigades were inspected in recent weeks, and senior officials removed two commanders from their posts. He says he and other senior officials are still reviewing other brigades to determine whether any more officers need to be removed for either incompetence or questionable loyalty.
The general acknowledged he does not know how deep militia influence goes in the national police, but he said the brigade removed from duty this week is not typical.
"I considered it certainly an isolated incident," he said. "The minister has been concerned about two principal issues within the ministry, corruption and sectarianism. He's very vigilant, and also has taken action concerning both of these major focus areas for himself."
General Peterson reports that Iraq is only about 2,000 policemen short of its goal of generating a force of 189,000. Most of those are local police, with about 24,000 in the national police force, and a slightly higher number in the border patrol. The general's training command has about a thousand people in it, but only about 100 are in the military. The rest are civilians and experienced American police officers, many of whom live and work with the Iraqi police units. General Peterson's staff also works throughout the Ministry of Interior, helping to build a system to support the police in the field.