NEW YORK – It will take as long as two years to bring Iraq's police force to full strength and it may be longer before violent resistance to Americans and their allies is eliminated, according to the former top police official for New York and Iraq.
Iraq has about 40,000 police officers and needs at least another 25,000, who must be recruited and trained from scratch under close American or international supervision, said Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner. He returned last month from a temporary assignment overseeing Iraq's police services.
"What are you gonna do?" Kerik said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. "You're gonna take a bunch of AK-47s, take guys off the street and hand them to them? Is that going to secure your streets? No. It's going to create corruption, it's going to create physical abuse, it's going to create rights violations."
Kerik met Friday with President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to brief them on conditions in Iraq and the status of the police.
"He was interested in the everyday stuff," Kerik said of Bush. "What are the streets like, what do the Iraqis feel, what do they see?"
He did not say whether he thought the Bush administration had been surprised by the unrest in Iraq, but said he himself had expected it.
"Look at Bosnia, Kosovo, the Soviet Union. This stuff happens. The resistance rises," Kerik said. "I said it's going to get worse before it gets better. I promise you; I knew it was coming."
On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, U.S. commander in Iraq, said between three and six American soldiers are killed and another 40 wounded every week in Iraq by an enemy that has become more lethal and sophisticated since the fall of Baghdad in April. U.S. soldiers are still facing between 15 and 20 attacks a day, including roadside bombs, Sanchez said.
By Saturday, the number of American soldiers to die in hostile action in Iraq since Bush declared major combat over on May 1 had reached 88. Since the beginning of the war, 317 U.S. soldiers have died in the country.
Kerik said reports of Iraqi chaos and lawlessness overshadow improvements made in policing, including the arrival of thousands of new radios, sidearms and uniforms and the purging of hard-core Baathists from the police force. Baathists, members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, once made up the higher echelons of government, military, medical and educational establishment. Now, most have been removed from positions of authority.
The police force had grown to 37,712 members by the time Kerik left Iraq in early September, he said. Those numbers consist almost entirely of police who were in uniform before the start of the war.
But as many as 25,000 officers did not return after the war, probably because they were afraid of being arrested for corruption, human rights violations or Baathist affiliations, Kerik said. Between 3,000 and 5,000 who did return were rejected for those reasons, he said.
Returning officers now pass through a three-week retraining course that includes lessons on human rights and modern policing.
The former narcotics detective experienced some cultural misunderstandings during his three and a half months in Iraq. For example, baseball caps were eliminated from the new uniforms because Iraqis said they were too American and would prevent Muslims from touching their foreheads to the ground in daily prayer, Kerik said. Berets took their place.
And Hungary's prime minister objected after Kerik was quoted as saying as many as 28,000 Iraqis would be trained at a military base there. The prime minister said the plan had not been approved or even formally discussed at the time Kerik publicized it in late August.
The U.S. now plans to train as many as 18,000 recruits a year in Jordan.
Kerik showed hints of his trademark bluntness when discussing the misdeeds of the Saddam Hussein regime. He called the prewar police force completely corrupt, disastrously mismanaged, and uninhibited in its use of torture.
"An interrogation in their eyes was hanging a guy upside down by his feet and beating him on his feet until he passed out," Kerik said. "They thought that was acceptable conduct."
Kerik coordinated mayoral campaign security for former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before he was named to a series of high-ranking positions in the city corrections and police departments. He gained national prominence after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, which killed 23 NYPD officers.
Interim administrator L. Paul Bremer told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that the 25,000 additional police officers needed could be put into place in a year. But Kerik maintains that adding another 25,000 to 35,000 officers to the Iraqi police force would take at least two years.
When asked about the discrepancy, Kerik said it might be possible to train roughly 25,000 police in 18 months if the Jordanian training facilities swiftly reach their maximum capacity.
When Kerik left for Baghdad in mid-May on a roughly $140,000-a-year contract with the Defense Department, he told reporters he expected to be there for six months. But he said this week that his Sept. 4 departure from Iraq was not unexpectedly early.
"Everything that had to be done that I could possibly do, it was done," he said.