Training Iraqi police essential, study group says

WASHINGTON (AP) — Training the police is as important to stabilising Iraq as building up an army there, but the United States has botched the job by assigning the wrong agencies to the task, two members of the Iraq Study Group say.

“The police training system has not gone well,” former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan commission, said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was joined in his statements by another member of the study group, Edwin Meese III, who was attorney general during the Reagan administration.

The US erred by first assigning the task of shaping the judicial system in a largely lawless country to the State Department and private contractors who “did not have the expertise or the manpower to get the job done,” Hamilton and Meese said in testimony obtained by the Associated Press.

In 2004, the mission was assigned to the Defence Department, which devoted more money to the task. But department officials also were insufficiently trained for the job, Hamilton and Meese said.

As a result, Iraq has few if any on-the-street law enforcement personnel or a functioning judicial system free of corruption, they said.

Justice Department officials, they said, should lead the work of transforming the system. Police executives and supervisors should replace the military police personnel now assigned.

And the FBI should expand its investigative and forensic training in Iraq, Hamilton and Meese told the panel.

The recommendations about the Iraqi judicial system were included in the Iraq Study Group’s report last year, but got little attention.

Hamilton and Meese said Wednesday that unless the US helps create a capable, trained professional police force and functioning criminal justice system, “ordinary Iraqis will not live in peace and will not have confidence in their new government.”

“Long-term security depends as much on the Iraqi police and judicial system as the Iraqi army,” they testified.

The hearing comes as lawmakers increasingly line up against President George W. Bush’s escalation of the unpopular and bloody war in Iraq, many citing the findings of the Iraq Study Group as they urge an end to US involvement there.

The Iraq Study Group recommended the administration pull US combat brigades out of Iraq by early 2008, launch new diplomatic initiatives with Iran and Syria and vastly increase the number of US military advisers in the country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, just returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, told a Capitol Hill news conference on Tuesday that her delegation saw no sign that US efforts in Iraq were moving ahead with urgency.

“We went with the hope and expectation that what we would see in Iraq was some coordinated effort to have political solutions, to relieve the civil strife and violence there, and diplomatic efforts to bring stability to the region,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

“We saw no evidence of either, sadly.” Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid informed Bush on Tuesday that they supported his idea for a bipartisan group to advise him on the war on terror.

Bush pitched the idea as a way to strengthen his relationship with Congress and gather regular input from lawmakers.

Pelosi and Reid jointly called Bush to take up the offer, said Dana Perino, deputy White House press secretary.

The first meeting will be next week, probably at the White House, although the date and attendees have not been set, Perino said. 

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