WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2008 – Iraqi police training continues as the focus moves from a counterinsurgency mission to a routine police mission, a senior Army official said. Army Col. Larry Saunders, director of the Baghdad Police College Transition Team and senior advisor to the Ministry of Interior vice deputy minister for training, spoke to online journalists and bloggers Dec. 12 about the status of the Iraqi national and local police.

The training evolution can be split into four stages, Saunders explained, and Iraq is approaching the third stage as it relates to the country having its own policing capability.

“I would look at the transition to police primacy as [the] first phase is the surge, when [the U.S. coalition] regained order in the country,, Saunders said. “The second phase is when the [Iraqi] army began to replace the coalition forces, and in almost all provinces that has occurred.”

The other stages are slowly materializing, Saunders said. In the third stage, the national police are beginning to replace the Iraqi army, and in the fourth stage, the Iraqi police assume primary responsibility for citizens’ safety and security.

“We’re probably well into the national police beginning to assume responsibility from the army in a whole lot of provinces,” Saunders said.

An estimated 450,000 Iraqi police serve in the Iraqi Police Service, which serves as a bridge between the Iraqi army and the regular police.

Saunders said Iraq is transitioning from a military-dominated partnership to a more civilian-based, police-based, police-centric partnership.

“But this is still a very, very fragile government,” he said. “They’re beginning to understand how to do things. They clearly see the picture of where they want to go. They don’t know how to get there.”

He emphasized the importance of having a team in place to help Iraqis figure out the processes and avoid the temptation to go back to natural instincts and past experiences. “If we sever those ties, we could become incredibly vulnerable,” Saunders said.

“Our success is fragile, because when placed in situations of high risk, there’s a tendency to go back to comfort zones and security and obeisance to whoever is going to be the big dog in the local area,” he added. “And so there’s real opportunity, I think, for this to retrograde and unravel very quickly.”

The majority of citizens are hoping that Iraq’s progress toward democracy works, the colonel said.

“There’s a growing confidence that this democracy is going to work. … There’s a great appreciation amongst those whom actually make the decisions for what the West brings them in terms of furthering democracy,” Saunders said. “I think from a strategic picture, all of the members of the government understand the importance of a balanced, nonsectarian-dominated government.”

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