Tuesday, March 21, 2006
What doomed Iraqi police?
Looking at video of the overrun police headquarters in Moqdadia, the first question that comes to my mind is: Why so little damage?

Burnt out police vehicles, yes. Gutted building, yes. Bloodied clothes, yes. But nothing recorded on the camera footage I saw to indicate a massive, long, drawn-out fight. It begs the question: How could police in a secure compound allow themselves to be overrun?

It's happened before, most notably in Mosul in November 2004, when insurgents stormed multiple police outposts, torching and destroying many of them. Almost over night, the police ran away. The assessment at the time was many of the police were sympathetic to or afraid of the insurgents.

The police force in Moqdadia should be better trained and by most accounts is better motivated than the force in Mosul two years ago. So was there an informer among their ranks giving insurgents vital information about weaknesses? Or were they simply so ill-equipped or poorly trained they couldn't match the insurgents?

U.S. military officers have told me they believe infiltration of Iraq's new security forces is so significant it may take years to eradicate. But if the police were let down by poor equipment or a lack of training, then that raises other questions about the speed with which they are being put in harm's way.

The area around Moqdadia is typical of regions in Iraq where U.S. forces are handing over "battle space" to Iraqis. It puts Iraq's police and army in operational control of a clearly defined area, allowing U.S. troops to scale back and ultimately leave the country.

Regardless of which explanation answers my initial question, the simple answer may be the one provided by U.S. field commanders: Iraq's police and army are a long way from standing alone.
Posted By Nic Robertson, CNN International Correspondent: 5:54 PM ET
  27 Comments
"Iraq's police and army are a long way from standing alone."

And yet the American people want our troops to leave the country. I don't agree that we should be there in the first place, but now that we are, there's not much we can do but stand our ground and help Iraq create a stable country. The only reason I believe Iraq has not yet had an open civil way, is because US and other troops are there, which prevents the insurgents from waging open war in the streets. I believe that more effort should go into training and supplying Iraq's army and police force, to keep the insurgents out of the streets. But until that time comes, the police need all the help they can get.
Posted By Anonymous Ben Lane, Huntersvill, NC : 6:45 PM ET
Working in law enforcement in Kansas, I know many of the demands placed on this profession and can only imagine the greater stresses and dangers of trying to perform that function in Iraqi society, which is undergoing such a transition that the role of the police has yet to be clearly defined. Many of the problems I see Iraqi police forces having to deal with are relatively simple: lack of truly experienced officers, being rushed through training due to the intense need for officers on the street, being placed as police officers in situations that demand military rather than law enforcement personnel, and the earlier mentioned lack of a clearly defined role and mission in their society.

It is really quite easy to understand how many of them are afraid or or might sympathize with insurgents. We are talking about their neighbors and friends who they are suddenly finding themselves on oppositite sides of a violent conflict. The bonds of religion and neighborhoods still hold despite differences in opinions that led them to become police. The only answer I can see is first to accept the fact that violence in Iraq will not end anytime soon, then to realize that only by having police forces work in close conjuction with US and Iraqi military forces in a process that gradually allows the police to assume their intended role can the police perform their jobs as expected. Sudden pull outs by any military forces, either Iraqi or US, will not stop the violence, but only leaves the violence to be visited upon people who are not yet capable of defending themselves or the others under their protection.
Posted By Anonymous Jabe Jacquart, Salina, Kansas : 6:57 PM ET
The Iraqi police must have felt overwhelmed when confronted with 100 insurgents. Had they put up a fight they most likely were assured an execution if caught. Perhaps they rolled over to allow the release of the prisoners and hoped for mercy. From the looks of it, with 15 officers killed, mercy is not on the insurgents agenda. I see this as a lack of training and preparation by the police. I think the police in Iraq need to take a harder stance and turn their "station" into a fort with multiple fail-safe explosives set in strategic areas. When confronted with an overwhelming force, they need to be able to dive into a bunker and blast everything and everyone else up. In the bunker they can hold out until reinforcements can arrive. I'm sorry if this sounds extreme but the alternative is to allow the insurgents to gain even more confidence in their ability to overrun police compounds.
Posted By Anonymous Jayson Coltraine, Santa Barbara CA : 7:23 PM ET
I am questioning the ability and competence of the leadership both at home and abroad, having spending so much, losing so much, gaining so little. It is a big shame and humiliation to the greatest nation which is going down so rapidly.
Posted By Anonymous Jersey, San Franicsco, CA : 7:34 PM ET
Nick,
I hope you're safe. Thanx for your sacrifice, living in Iraq now is a nightmare. I always look for you to tell us what is going on there,not people who are in Washington DC, who only make "Suprise" visits once a year!
Back to the subject, the insurgents are better equipped now, they make more sophisticated bombs, ie.IED's. I'm not sure the Iraq Police can handle them now, infact,nobody can!!Sorry!
Please stay safe.
Posted By Anonymous Maria Novi MI : 7:41 PM ET
Iraq's police and army are a long way from standing alone

I believe that there will never be peace in Iraq as long as we are there. I believe that there will never be democracy unless the people fight for it. So with those 2 presumptions, there is only one way out of this for the US. Leave now and let the Iraq people fight for themselves. As long as we are there, the terroists are going to continue fighting. When and if we ever leave, there will be a civil war. The people of Iraq have to stand up and fight for themselves. The way to create a democracy is to do it yourselves. Not have the US create a "democracy" that has US backed leaders. Back to the point of the story, what happens in 10 years when the Iraq police and Army still aren't ready. What do we do then, Mr and Mrs Republicans? Leave and let the civil war began?
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Coatesville, PA : 7:47 PM ET
I agree that no matter what your take on the original reasons for going into Iraq are, to pull out completely at this time would be a grave mistake and jeopardize the sacrafices given so far by both US troops and Iraqi civilians. However, we must be careful in how we supply and build up the Iraqi military and police forces. No doubt, for the Iraqis to quell the insurgency on their own takes US backed training and supplies, but what a tragedy it would be to have a bloody civil war carried out by US trained Iraqi security forces with weapons paid for by the American taxpayer (of course, the world would blame America for the civil war). For the Iraqi security forces to stand alone and bring true peace to the country, loyalties must be swayed from tribal and religious leaders to the new democratic state government and the new country as a whole. If the police force truly believed in and loved their country and its newfound democracy, they would stand and fight for it.
Posted By Anonymous Rick Z, San Diego, Ca : 7:48 PM ET
for the americans to get out without ensuring self reliance by the iraqi's government will mean: (1) american capitulation to terrorism (2) certain doom to the present democratically elected government (3) iraqi civil war - just to name a few of the unfavorable conditions. i agree on american involvement in iraq and bush is right in going into it. WMD's? all indications leads to it although it ended up as wrong info. However, one cannot stand still if there's a murmur of a threat of danger whether it is wrong or right. Bush had to do something out of that threat. that is leadership. now, if only iran would be allowed to enrich uranium and build a nuclear arsenal ... the peaceniks would certainly find their acceptance rating down too.
Posted By Anonymous kenneth pacheco, davao, phil. : 7:48 PM ET
Iraq needs to go through the same stages as all emerging democracies. No one imposed democracy on the US in 1776, and we can't impose it on anyone else. When and where has there ever been a successful external creation of democracy? It (democracy) is something that must be earned, fought for, and defended by the primary stakeholders - the citizens. Otherwise "elected for life" officials quickly take over and derail democracy - look at our ally Egypt for a prime example - a King by any other name is still a King (or dictator) - it's all semantics. The best thing we can do for Iraq in the long run is get out as fast as possible and let them figure it out without our interference. We got Saddam out of the way, and that should be enough. The rest is and always will be up to the citizens of Iraq.
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Sierra Vista AZ : 7:51 PM ET
Nic-

I love your reporting. You are doing a great job, but I must admit that you and other reporters are more than a little crazy for staying in the middle of this mess. Without a doubt these police officers are poorly trained. It seems that there must be informants working from within the system or at least those who are sympathetic to insurgents. Just because we want these people to police themselves doesn't mean they should or even can at this point.
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl Raleigh, NC : 8:01 PM ET
Seems like the South Vietnamese Army allover again. Pull away American back up, and they fall to bits, then run away.
If they did not run, it means they are the ones who turned over information on how to hit the target in the first place.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Sciascia Millbury MA : 8:23 PM ET
They got spanked, no question about it. That said, chalk it up as tuition paid to the school of hard knocks. Hopefully the lesson's been learned. The insurgency made several attempts to storm US positions in the past with some success. ie) small arms diversions followed up with larger car bomb attacks. In large part, US forces adapted. I think in the long run Iraqi forces will as well, but it's going to take some time.
Posted By Anonymous Tom F, Hoboken, NJ : 8:57 PM ET
Mr Robertson,
As a former Military Police soldier who worked with and trained Iraqi Police in Baghdad (April 2004-March 2005) I have a few guess's for you as to why the station fell so quickly and how.
It could just be plain bad luck for the IP's to incompetence at the other end. I had 50 IP's to supervise from 1800hrs to 0600hrs for over 4 months at the Police academy. I found eveything from hero's to zero's in the IP's while I was there. Some of them had the insight to realize that the situation was dangerous and handled it acordingly, while I had the pleasure of kicking awake IP's who slept on duty or abonded there post for warmth.
There was one rule I found while I was in Iraq from all US personal. The Iraqi's performed fine while under direct supervision from American forces. It could be less than 30 minutes for the Iraqi's to relax and become easy targets.
Posted By Anonymous Christopher J McGlynn, Westbury, NY : 9:04 PM ET
I couldn't help but notice at the beginning of this conflict, by the images on tv, that if the insurgents were in the Iraqi Army and police forces our troops would be home already. Unfortunately the people we could use are the enemy.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Kaye Warren, OH : 9:37 PM ET
Again we have American troops involved in a civil war in a country that enjoyed thousands of years of civilization when Jefferson, Washington and others were infants.

The Sunnis' in their minds ARE fighting for freedom. Saddam constantly used the threat of Shia retaliation against them.

In an area of the world where clan feuds last for centuries how are we in a minute by minute society supposed to put a timetable on "democracy" for people who may or may not admire our style of government?
Posted By Anonymous Petermsp. Minneapolis, MN : 9:38 PM ET
I think the general lack of organization with regard to the Iraqi security forces is putting those that wish to earnestly help the country in harm's way. In my opinion there is no doubt that the security forces (probably at all levels, maybe even at the upper echelon) have been infiltrated by insurgents, and I think, as earlier media reports stated, we'll find that the murder of seemingly random people in large numbers around the country is being done by corrupt members of the police force. We have a pretty sophisticated setup in this country when it comes to background checking, but who knows how long it will be in Iraq, especially since it's feasible that a mechanic, shopkeeper, or teacher could be part of the insurgency.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, Hollywood, California : 9:41 PM ET
The US is scaling back when it should actually be deploying more troops to provide security. They are prematurely disengaging when Iraqi troops are incapable of countering Iraqi nationalist forces. The US should engage the insurgency with more US troops in the front lines rather than hunkering down in their protected encampments and allowing ill trained Iraqis to do the fighting and dying for them. Its the US's obligation to provide police functions to all Iraq. As Colin Powell once mentioned," You broke it, you own it."
Posted By Anonymous Arnie Alafriz, Manila : 9:46 PM ET
Of course Iraq's police/military are a long way from accomplishing anything close to standing alone. When you have a government/country ruled by religion it will always falter..hopefully. Separation of church and state should always be the norm...or there lies the Mideast situation. Let's face it, these people are steeped in religion, not freedom. I really believe that the Bush administration knows that to be true, but I also believe they do not really care, as their long time goal is to set up bases in Iraq for years to come!
Anyone check out the construction going on in Iraq, you should, it is very interesting. Sorry if I offended anyone, but had to have my say in this matter.
Posted By Anonymous Moe, Liverpool, NY : 9:49 PM ET
I am so frustrated by the situation in Iraq. I see the Bush administration saying they're just going to keep at it - but keeping at it doesn't seem to be getting them anywhere. I see the opponents to the war saying to pull troops back and let the Iraqi police and military handle the insurgents. But then you report on this prison break (Was there inside help? Why no evidence of a long battle on the surveillance tapes? How many people escaped?) and it makes me question the Iraqi forces' ability to effect peace in their country. We got rid of Saddam, but then left the door wide open for the insurgents - are the Iraqis better off now than 3 years ago? Maybe a few of them are, but I think most of them are not.

Bush opened a huge can of worms and, even though I think we are now obliged to try to make things right, I don't believe this administration is capable of it. I think they're just going to keep on keeping on until it becomes someone else's problem in '09.
Posted By Anonymous Calla, Richmond CA : 10:35 PM ET
Standing and dying to defend a fixed post like this is not smart no matter who you are. There is no way to evaluate the situation from the info at hand here.
Posted By Anonymous Jay Temecula California : 10:42 PM ET
This incident is horrific, tragic, and seriously troubling. Is this the "progress" Bush referred to this morning? Or is this why he finally admitted that he doesn't see US troops coming home before his time in office finally ends?

This tragedy underscores the Bush administration's and the DOD's blatant ignorance of the situation on the ground in Iraq, militarily, politically, and for people's lives, both before and since the invasion. The US war architects' incomprehensible ignorance and incompetence is the direct cause and the primary reason for the bloodbath, for the fact that we can't even identify the escapees, and for there being the weapons that were used to accomplish this at the police hq in Moqdadia.

I am SO having deja vu. Argue if you wish semantic differences, but too many of the very same mistakes that were made in Vietnam are being repeated.

In Vietnam we didn't understand the nature of the Viet Cong; now it�s the Insurgency. In Vietnam the destructive weapon we didn't expect and couldn't fight with bombs were land mines; in Iraq it is IEDs. In Southeast Asia, proponents of the Domino Theory insisted all the countries there would fall to communism if we didn't stay; now there is insistence that we must stay and establish Democracy in Iraq or the Middle East will never stabilize. And in Vietnam, the way commanders on the ground were ignored and misunderstood by the Johnson and Nixon administrations; now Rumsfeld/Cheney/Bush fire the commanders who don't agree with them and ignore their warnings that this very type of incident would happen.

During both wars, political viewpoints other than the administration's have been mischaracterized as unpatriotic; yet they later become widely accepted (Eugene McCarthy/John Murtha) and even implemented.

And in both cases, there was an arrogant, self-righteous Secretary of Defense (McNamara/Rumsfeld) who impatiently condemned and deemed stupid anyone who didn't see things his way. The difference here is that McNamara now sees the error of his former ways, but Rumsfeld seems incapable of wrapping his brain around that.

And lastly, of course this is all the fault of you media, don't you know? Why would you even report such a significant incident in this war instead of showing schools "we built" that children's parents are too afraid to send them to b/c if their kids do make there through the deadly streets they might get slaughtered in the building. And how dare you report that the weapons that would be used against them are from the caches that were not secured as a part of the fundamentally flawed military plan.

If only more of the realities of going to war had been reported earlier on. My head is exploding and my heart is breaking, ~N~
Posted By Anonymous -Nioshii- NYC/ATL : 11:22 PM ET
Why is this blog becoming a forum for our presence in Iraq? Answer the question, people! Nic...the answer is simple: Iraqi soldiers and IPs are, for the most part, soft-bellied cowards. I've seen it first hand. They talk great smack, but when rounds start coming down range, don't count on them to fight back. That's been our biggest challenge in training them: teaching them a little warrior spirit. It's going to take time and patience.
Posted By Anonymous Anthony, Plainsboro, NJ : 12:20 AM ET
The peace in Iraq was lost when we raced to Baghdad not securing borders or ammo dumps or infrastructure. I have a really dumb dog that understands securing territory better than that. When arriving those from the War College seemed to be clueless as their training was and never has been directed toward "nation building" and the detached leadership was lost in la-la land. Frankly, I think the press as a general rule was way to kind to the "fear factor spinners" with most of them totally not fulfilling the role of "journalists". Those who did definitely got the "snub".

Personally, I appreciate the type of reporting that you, Jane, Mike Ware and others have done. If anything the coverage has been "underdone" and the "Radio Free Mid-East" stuck in the 50's managed news folks have had the upper hand. I note a lot of secrecy/paranoia in the actions of our "leadership" which is not related to national security, but reminicent of McCarthy and Nixon.

This, latest police station incident has been predictable given the environment. The wrapping of whatever three word slogan connected to 9/11 in a flag and waving a bible is a total disservice to our troops.

It seems like many well-trained great Americans have been given "mission impossible" by management that has not defined a task and provided a structure that allows for completion of it.

Thanks for hanging in there. I relied on you for the 13 mos. my kid was there and continue to follow his brothers and sisters.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 1:27 AM ET
After spending two years in Iraq I think it's safe to say that the police station got overrun because the Iraqi's just won't put up a fight. It has been my experience that by and large, the majority of the population are willing to sit back and let the Coalition take care of the security situation. The concept of "selfless service" is such a foreign notion to them. The Iraqi's need to see immediate benefit to doing something-whether it's loaning the neighbors a bottle of water, or turning in a man who's selling weapons to insurgent groups-they'd rather let someone else deal with it.
While it can be argued that the U.S. created this mess, it is ultimately the Iraqi's responsibility to take control of their country. When I arrived in 2003 all I heard from the Iraqi's was how grateful they were to have Saddam removed from power. American flags were waved everywhere, flowers were tossed to us, and the citizens couldn't get enough of us. But, when they realized that we couldn't fix their problems in a month, or even 6, (and this is what they expected), the frustration and anger came to a head.
It's not about poorly trained police officers. It's about a sense of duty to one's country. One of my favorite sayings, and it rang true, was that the IP were only as good as their last bribe.
The situation is much too complex to sum up in a blog that's only a few paragraphs long. Spend a few months, or a few years in Iraq-not in the Green Zone or on military bases. Go live among the people of Iraq and then make judgements on why and how we find ourselves in this situation.
Posted By Anonymous JL, Colorado Springs, CO : 4:17 AM ET
I like to answer many questions as I can with, what would I have done or why would I have done it? That said, why would I storm a police station? I am waging a war against an occupting force, I need ammo and guns. The question then becomes, how far does the Iraqi government go in keeping these things out of the hands of the insurgents? Far enough that they wouldn't stockpile them in Police stations? Unless I know the answers to these questions I can't conclude that maybe the police were ill equpped maybe in some notion that it would make them less of a target. Knowing these people only have partial power at best, knowing they never lived true freedom, they are very much lost and alone. Freedom for these people is alot like putting a prisoner on the street after a 30 year term for a crime they didn't commit. You have a very volatile situation with confused and frightened people. The west can't hand Iraq its freedom, you need to teach them how to live it. This can be another Vietnam or another Korea. It is the choice you have to make.
Posted By Anonymous Edwin Spence, Toronto Ontario : 5:54 AM ET
How exactly is the US supposed to deploy more troops to Iraq, when our military doesn't have any more troops to send, and can't supply and provide for the troops we have over there now? There are soldier whose tour of duty ended long ago who are still over there who cannot get out and come home, because the government won't let them. Why? Because they have no replacements!

Only fools are joining the Army or National Guard now, because they know they will be sent over there. All the skilled soldiers who can find a way are also getting out, which is why airplanes are falling out of the sky due to bad maintenance, among the many other problems over there.

The only way to get any more troops is going to be to have a draft, and we have to be pretty close that - especially if the Bush Administration has designs on Invading Iran, North Korea, or anybody else.

We're not threatening anybody right now, because every country on earth can see that we don't have the troops to back up any threat at all - everything we have is tied up in Iraq, and we can't even support that.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Wible, Coatesville, PA : 10:10 AM ET
Nick:
You've seen the videos. Is there anything to suggest that some of this raid was staged? That could help explain the lack of signs of struggle. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where pro-insurgent infiltrators arrange to be on night watch shift, wear something to identify themselves to the assaulting teams, flee their posts once the attack starts and take cover in prearranged parts of the compound that the attackers are warned to avoid firing on, and turn their guns on the members of the unit who are not on their side. Then they would either give a plausible explanation for their survival or disappear into the night as MIA's or deserters. By contributing to the "massacre" of the police unit they would help build the image of the insurgents as invincible or divinely protected or whatever, and help increase the body counts of the police forces.

I've heard it said that Iraqis are somewhat reluctant to shoot to kill their countrymen unless they're sure they're a mortal enemy. So wholesale slaughter of a police unit seems not to fit that picture, given the divided loyalties of a lot of the populace. In fact we might even speculate that the news of this raid plays differently to Iraqi ears, to whom it might be quite clearly an "inside job."
Posted By Anonymous Brad, Dallas TX : 1:13 PM ET
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