WASHINGTON – Iraqi police casualties have totaled 4,000 killed and 8,000 wounded over the past two years, as the fledgling force grapples with wartime problems ranging from corruption to sectarian militia infiltrating its ranks, a U.S. commander said Friday.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team in Baghdad, described significant headway in building an Iraqi police force, saying that 99 percent of the target force of 188,000 has been trained and 82 percent equipped.
But he said continued efforts will be needed in 2007 to improve the quality of the force, provide training in leadership and basic policing skills, and weed out militia members – some of whom are known to have carried out sectarian executions.
“It’s hard to really ascertain how many individuals within the national police forces … still maintain loyalties to militias,” Peterson said. “We do ask the question, but obviously the response is always ‘no.’ So I have no idea what the number is.”
This week Iraq’s Ministry of Interior had to remove a brigade of hundreds of Iraqi police from duty in Baghdad after it participated in sectarian violence, including one battalion that raided a meat-processing factory and kidnapped more than 20 Sunni workers, seven of whom were found executed.
That brigade, as well as other Iraqi police units now being inspected, will undergo three weeks of “police transformational training” to improve their policing skills, Peterson said.
He called the sectarian killings by police “an isolated incident” and said the decision to order the police brigade back to its garrison was “very positive.”
“The minister has been concerned about two principal issues within the ministry: corruption and sectarianism,” said Peterson, whose 1,000-member team is in charge of supporting the training, manning and equipping of Iraq’s police force. In addition, about 6,500 U.S. troops and more than 600 police officers are currently acting as embedded advisers to Iraqi police units.
More victims were found Friday in the spiral of slayings between Shiite and Sunni groups. Nine bodies were discovered in the southern Shiite city of Kut and the nearby town of Suwayrah. Among them was that of a Suwayrah city councilman.