BASRA, Iraq – The Iraqi police force is a work in progress — the weak point in Iraq's domestic security — but it's stronger now than it was two years ago as the U.S. struggles to whip it into shape.
FOX News spent two days at a Basra police station, an island of quiet on a Saturday afternoon. No phones rang because there was no phone line, and at 2 p.m. most of the officers were napping. Out of five patrol cars, only one works — and that one needs a push.
Morning drill reveals a police force that is out of step, out of rhythm, tardy, and fat. But as the morning goes on the marching improves under the watchful eyes and protection of U.S. Military Police.
"The good news is that I think we've created a secure environment that we're able to make progress on that and the more progress we can make the less and less likely it will be that we'll see a resurgence," said Marine Lt. Col. Dave Sosa.
The U.S. military is trying to prevent a return to the days of two years ago, when Iraqi police routinely dropped their weapons in combat and sometimes kidnapped their own citizens for ransom.
Today they are encouraged by the MP's to walk the streets and listen to the complaints of those who used to fear them.
There are now more than 20,000 newly trained Iraqi police in Basra, guarding everything from welfare offices to hydroelectric dams.
Being on the water is something new for the Iraqi police. Under Saddam Hussein, they were not allowed within three miles of the dam.
U.S. troops and Iraqi police patrol the waters in uparmormed boats fitted with grenade launchers, Gatling guns and infrared vision, but the watercraft — a million dollars a pop — will be leaving with the Americans. The Iraqis have 25 of their own on order, but so far the Iraqi government has provided none. Fifty newly trained Iraqi River Police could soon be high and dry.
Basic logistics — getting boats, phones and cars where they need to be — will likely determine whether the same men who punished people under Saddam Hussein will now be able to protect them.