Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Up to 30,000 `incompetent' Iraqi police to be sacked

SECURITY A SHAMBLES With one week to go until the US handover, 30,000 police officers face the sack amid serious shortages of both staff and equipment

THE GUARDIAN , BAGHDAD

Iraqi police officers and security forces work on laptop computers in northern Iraq's first joint coordination center with multinational forces in the city of Mosul on Wednesday. The building used by the center was formerly the headquarters for Saddam Hussein's ''Jerusalem Army'' militia.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Up to 30,000 Iraqi police officers are to be sacked for being incompetent and unreliable and given a US$60 million payoff before the US hands over to an Iraqi government, senior British military sources said on Wednesday.

Many officers either deserted to the insurgents or simply stayed at home during the recent uprisings in Fallujah and across the south.

Fourteen months after the war and just a week before the Iraqis take power on June 30, the sources revealed serious shortfalls of properly trained police and soldiers and vital equipment.

The problems are particularly critical because 35 new police checkpoints are to be set up across Baghdad before the handover.

US officials have repeatedly warned that violence is likely to escalate ahead of the ceremony.

Although the US has set aside US$3.5 billion to rebuild the security forces, much of the training and many of the contracts have yet to be completed.

The police forces, now the first line of defense, are being drastically overhauled.

There are 120,000 officers on the payroll, although only 89,000 turn up for work -- and more than half of these have still had no training. Those who do not turn up are either ghost employees left over from the previous corrupt system or are permanently absent. Most will be encouraged to retire.

In addition, up to 30,000 regular police officers who are now deemed unsuitable will be sacked and replaced by properly vetted and trained recruits. Some were hired under former president Saddam Hussein's regime but others are among those recruited in the past year. Each officer will receive US$1,000 to US$2,000 in severance pay -- a total package of up to US$60 million.

"The feeling is this will allow them to generate a business and feed their family and not force them to become fighters," one source said.

An army of 25,000 is also planned but the first 5,000 soldiers are still in training.

A paramilitary force, now known as the Iraqi national guard, should have 51,000 troops but has only 35,000. The security forces are also desperately short of equipment, having less than 5 percent of the radios, a quarter of the body armor, a third of the vehicles and slightly more than half the weapons they need.

A total of 253,000 weapons have been ordered from contractors, but only 141,000 have arrived so far. Of the 57,000 radios on order, there are only 2,500 in Iraq. And of the 25,000 vehicles needed, there are only 8,500.

The high demand for body armor has been particularly difficult to meet. Of the 174,000 sets procured, only 40,000 have so far been received. "We have saturated the global market," another British military source said.

Colonel James Mulvenna, an American officer who is chief of staff on the coalition's training team, said the program for building barracks and bases for the Iraqi army was three months behind schedule. Most work had been farmed out to private contractors, who were increasingly being targeted.

"The contractors are facing security issues," Mulvenna said in a separate briefing. "It is hard to do construction in the middle of an insurgency. There are also funding delays."

The insurgency had also forced a switch in priorities away from the army and toward the police.

"I've had to move people away from training the army to training the police," Mulvenna said. "One army base has had to be switched and given to the police civil intervention force."

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