The U.S. military officer in charge of training Iraq's special police commandos says the force is very good at its main missions - fighting insurgents and gathering intelligence. But the officer says he is also working to change the way the Iraqi officers operate, and even the way they think, to reflect the changes in the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The officer spoke via satellite Friday to reporters at the Pentagon.
U.S. Army Colonel Jeffrey Buchanan and his troops are working with nearly 9,000 Iraqi police commandos, more than half of them deployed in the Baghdad area. Colonel Buchanan says the police commandos operate more like infantry troops, conducting raids in urban neighborhoods and fighting insurgents. He says many of the commandos are former Iraqi army soldiers and Ministry of the Interior troops, and they put a lot of energy into their work, sometimes too much energy.
"One of their strengths is that they're aggressive," said Colonel Buchanan. "And so what we try to do is ensure that their aggressiveness does not go over the top and that they operate in accordance with Iraqi law. We do address it. We address it intentionally through training. We address it through leadership, through our leadership so that they can follow our example. And we address it during operations by being there with them on every operation."
Colonel Buchanan says part of the training his teams provide the Iraqi police commandos has to do with how they treat civilians. He says the training is aimed a changing what he calls 'behavior and values.'
"What we can measure and what we can see is behavior," he said. "We think we're making great progress in the behavioral dimension. Values - understanding what it's like to be a servant of society as part of a democratically elected government - is something that is going to take time to learn."
Still, Colonel Buchanan says there have been very few incidents of abuse of civilians by the commandos in the 10 months he has been in Iraq. He says in one case two months ago in the town of Samara, an Iraqi officer was destroying property in shops to retaliate for the death of one of his policemen. Colonel Buchanan says a more senior Iraqi officer arrested him, fined him and had him expelled from the force.
"For the Iraqis, the volunteer force is a new concept," explained Jeffrey Buchanan. "But they're starting to learn that democracy is far more complex than simply choosing those who govern you. Democracy requires individual sacrifice for the good of society, and these men are doing just that."
Colonel Buchanan also responded to charges that the Iraqi police commandos are dominated by Shi'ite Muslims. He says the units have between 20 and 40 percent Sunnis, and that among the leaders the split is 50-50. He also says the commandos are very careful about who they let into their ranks in order to prevent infiltration by the insurgents. But he reported two instances in which commandos were implicated in terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing by a new recruit about six months ago that killed several other recruits.
The U.S.-led coalition has designated 2006 the Year of the Police in Iraq. The goal is to recruit and train more regular Iraqi police officers to help secure areas where the coalition defeats insurgent forces. The police commandos are the elite part of that force.