Iraq's National Police are supposed to play a key role in the country's counterinsurgency, but U.S. experts say they are so corrupt and riddled with sectarianism they should be "disbanded and reorganized." As VOA's Jim Randle reports from Baghdad, a major effort to overhaul the National Police has been underway for some time, and a respected police agency from Italy, the Carabiniere, joins the effort this month.

A study of Iraqi military and police forces by a team of U.S. experts recently called the Iraqi National Police ineffective, corrupt, sectarian, and unable to help in the struggle against terrorism.

The Jones Commission and other critics says the problems in the Iraqi National Police are so serious that the top leadership and many officers have been replaced.

In an effort to deal with the crisis, entire battalions, units of several hundred members, have been undergoing investigations and retraining to strengthen skills and weed out unfit officers.

Former Washington, D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, a member of the Jones Commission, recently told the U.S. Congress the problems in the Iraqi National Police were the worst he has seen in 38 years of police work.

"It was unbelievable, the amount of negative comments we got, whether we were speaking with Iraqi Army, Iraqi police service, it didn't seem to matter, community members, there was almost a universal feeling that the National Police were highly sectarian, were corrupt, had been accused of having death squads and the like," said Ramsey.

A training mission from one of Italy's national police agencies, the Carabiniere, is in Baghdad to begin a new phase in the retraining of the Iraqi National Police.

The commander of the Carabiniere training effort in Iraq, Colonel Fabrizio Parrulli says he plans to instill a new level of professionalism in the troubled force, starting with basic classes in forensics, investigation and operating as coordinated units.

He says it is crucial to get his counterparts to learn to enforce the law fairly regardless of the sectarian status of the officer or the suspect.

The colonel admits doing this in the wake of the bloody sectarian conflict that has killed thousand of Iraqis and driven millions more out of their homes will be very tough.

"Yes, we know it is difficult, it is not easy, but gaining [drawing] on experience we had in the past over 150 years of training activity since the middle of the 19th century when we started with a mission abroad in the Isle of Crete in 1852," said Parrulli. "We believe we can succeed in this activity."

Iraq, a nation of about 28 million people, has about 230,000 police.

The 25,000 member Iraqi National Police back up local police with special skills and are supposed to step in when problems, such as riots, overwhelm local forces.

A portion of the Iraqi National Police will be trained directly by their Italian counterparts, and the Iraqis are then supposed to share their lessons with colleagues.

A select group will get extra training focused on antiterrorism and some other advanced issues.

Col. Parrulli says Carabiniere-type units are helpful in Iraq because they are a police agency organized along military lines, with more training and firepower than regular police.

While most police work alone or in small groups, Carabiniere units can also operate in large groups using military methods and tactics.

"They are something we call "robust police" or Gendarmerie, or Carabiniere are police forces that fill the gap between police forces, like the local police and the military forces," added Parrulli.

Iraq needs very robust police to deal with its complex counter-insurgency situation, where the goal is to win the support of the population rather than destroy an enemy army or capture territory.

In this arena, regular police, equipped and trained to deal with car thieves and killers, can be overwhelmed by heavily armed, organized groups of insurgents.

But armies have the opposite problem, they are fundamentally organized to apply the maximum possible amount of firepower to an enemy, but they were not created to gather the kind of information that is a fundamental part of police work.

Italian Army Major General Alessandro Pompegnani, says Italian police training effort is part of a larger NATO program to help the Iraqi government.

"We are trying to raise the level of the quality of the leadership in different areas, mid [and] senior level of leadership," said Pompegnani.

General Pompegnani is the Deputy Commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq.

These police-turned-teachers hope they can greatly improve Iraq's troubled National Police and make it an effective weapon against crime and chaos. It seems likely to be a very tough job.