Why would anyone want to be a police officer in Iraq? It's dangerous, no question. But there has never been a problem recruiting. We're training 5,000 new officers every eight weeks.
Obviously, one reason is the pay: $220 a month is a lot here. But most officers say they want to serve their country. They want to build a better Iraq. Their nation has such potential; fulfilling it requires security, and they want to be part of that.
I've served in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in Northern Ireland — and I've never encountered anything as challenging as here. The scale, the sheer number of moving parts, the difficulty of communicating, and the danger of physically getting around the place — nothing is easy in Iraq. But you can't not do it.
And you can do it if you've got good people. We were late to recognize that without an effective police force, we're going to be here a lot longer. But now we have 500 international police advisers and 200 police trainers. The FBI and DEA have arrived to teach intelligence. We've put 23,000 officers through leadership courses at three different levels.
Our advisers have particularly challenging jobs. They're out in the field, in police stations all the time, sitting by the police chiefs, taking them through tough times. They advise on basic operations: how to do a roster system, how to look after prisoners, how to do a stop and search. But they also offer partnership and friendship that's just as crucial.
We have a guy in Najaf, Gerry Poradzisz, a former New York policeman. Since April, he has been living in a tent with no air-conditioning. He's at risk of getting mortared, and he has to move with the military in armored Humvees. And he's loving it, totally involved.
The police chief in Najaf, Ghalib Al-Jazairi, has an incredibly important job. We nearly faced operational failure there, and we only regained control in early June. Al-Jazairi is an ex-military officer, a tough bloke, direct and very brave. But it's a lonely position. He's in constant danger, trying to police a city of 1 million and never knowing when the place is going to erupt again.
So Gerry sees Al-Jazairi several hours every day. He's there to caution, to encourage or cajole, to offer a restraining and welcoming hand. He explains how to conduct an arrest operation — and how to run a press conference. And we've pretty much turned Najaf around. Most of the police force had disappeared, so we've sent 500 new recruits to Jordan for training. We've rebuilt or refurbished eight police stations and put in weapons.
The key is to instill in Iraqis the values and ethos to be a leader. That's what's been lacking here for so many years. It's easy for us to say, "Lead by example," but what does that really mean? It's important to provide a framework for leadership without being prescriptive. You've got to find your own way, to learn from experience and from your mistakes.
We're trying to give these officers the confidence to lead. Iraqis are enormously willing, and desperate to learn. They keep asking, "What's your advice?" Because under Saddam's rule, making decisions could get you demoted or even killed. So the tendency is to push decision making upward. We're teaching them how to make decisions themselves and to live with their mistakes and those of others.
We're not kidding ourselves. We're not saying that you do a two-week course and you're equipped to lead. But we're trying to give them the tools. How will we know if we've succeeded? We'll know when the frequency and number of attacks drop and when arrests and convictions go up. When fewer police stations and officers are intimidated by militia. When we start to gain public confidence.
And, fundamentally, when we deliver the elections in January. That's a big test. Who's to say that in the future things won't descend into chaos again? I don't know. It's all a question of leadership.
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.