AR RAMADI, Iraq -- With the Iraqi Army taking giant steps toward becoming a legitimate security force for Iraq, efforts are now being concentrated on building and training a new local police force and creating a long-lasting solution for peace here in the capital of the Al Anbar province.
Although efforts to create a police force were made in the past, recent efforts are proving to be more successful – and longer lasting than previous attempts due, in part, to progress made by the Iraqi Army during the Constitutional Referendum and National Elections, said Maj. Robert Rice, the officer in charge of the local Police Partnership Program.
“These recruiting drives have been an ongoing effort,” he said. “But, this is the first time we’ve seen a significant opportunity for sustained success. We now have the support of the tribal sheiks, governor and people. For the first time, it looks like a large number of people want to participate and become police officers in their neighborhoods.”
Getting the support of the local leadership was key to the success of the elections and the overall security of the city. Without their help, the past elections and current police-recruiting drive would not have been as successful as they have been.
“A lot of this success goes back to November when we began engaging the local leadership and working through them to increase participation,” Rice said. “That engagement led to the people wanting to participate, which, in turn, led to the great turnout at the elections. It’s that enthusiasm that has led to this opportunity.”
This success comes as somewhat of a surprise to the Marines and civilians running the recruiting process after the poor turnout and results of previous recruiting attempts, said John Weiss, an international police liaison officer from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“The last time we had a recruiting drive, we prepared more than 400 packages and in four days we had 14 people show up,” he said. “This time we had more than 1,000 show up ready to ship to training despite a suicide bomber. It shows the progress we are making. Three months ago people were too afraid to be seen around coalition forces. Now they won’t be denied the chance to participate.”
During the recruiting drive, an estimated 1,000 applicants were approved and became, in effect, the first Iraqis here to take responsibility for the safety of their fellow citizens. However, about midway through the registration process, a suicide bomb blast killed more than 60 people waiting in line and injured many more.
“The suicide bombing was something that backfired for the insurgency here,” said Rice.
Despite the attack, many of the people waiting to enter the site stayed to finish the registration process.
“It was quite encouraging actually, to see a couple of guys who were wounded by shrapnel refuse to leave until they had applied,” he said.
After the applicants were processed and accepted for training, they were given instructions to come back approximately a week later for transport to their basic training in Baghdad.
“Once there, they will spend 10 weeks going through basic police instruction. When they get back from the academy, we will get them coordinated and ready to begin working the streets of Ramadi.”
One of the first men to be processed through and declared fit to ship was former Iraqi officer Ala’a Marzok. Although a veteran of the battles against the insurgency here in Iraq, this time he had a more personal reason for joining the police force.
“I need the situation to be safe here,” he said. “My brother was killed by insurgents. We need to kill them before they kill us.”
Despite the dangers to themselves and their families, the lines of men applying to become police officers here and around Iraq are proof that the battle against the insurgency is being won and that peace can be established in Iraq.