The Iraqi National Police are fully operational and working to secure Baghdad against sectarian violence, militias, terrorists and criminal elements. Army Sgt. Maj. Rocklyn Shiffer has been deployed to Iraq for a year as part of a 15-man team advising and training the national police headquarters unit.
Shiffer, based out of Heidelberg, Germany, has 24 years of military service and experience as a police officer to help him mentor the new Iraqi police and build their infrastructure. The senior enlisted leader spoke with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan recently from Baghdad.
Tell us about your assignment. I have approximately 200 senior NCOs [noncommissioned officers] in the Iraqi force here that I try to develop while I maintain my team and my work environment. We’re mentoring about a 3,000-man [Iraqi] headquarters, which includes a 750-man quick-reaction police force that is conducting counterinsurgency operations throughout Baghdad and the surrounding area. … We provide them with medical evacuation, close air support and medium and heavy weapons support.
These national police are not like typical police; they are trying to secure Baghdad and deploy counterinsurgency operations to help local Iraqi police. They’re going to have to react to the big fight and prevent sectarian violence from getting out of control.
How do you establish stability in Baghdad? The main way is checkpoints. They do some patrolling and targeted raids if they have intelligence. We get lots of tips to alert the police to the militias or other crime activities.
A lot of our effort is to build up their image, to assist them in getting a quality professional force. Right now they are doing everything, responding to everything, doing the checkpoints, doing the raids. We just go along and advise them.
The Iraqi government changed some of its police leadership. What else is being done about the corruption in the Iraqi police force? NCOs and soldiers are familiar with militias; some even know people in militias. The senior NCOs here say it’s not a good thing, wish they’d go away. Recently the minister of the interior came here, and they had everybody swear under oath to not be a member of any militias.
The people of the city see two forces: a police force and a militia force. It’s not a good thing. I really don’t see any of that activity with the people I’m with. They are eager to learn, train and defend their city and bring about stability.
When can the Iraqis assume the role completely? The national police have eight brigades all over Baghdad. They’re all much more advanced. The headquarters is about a 20-acre site, a cross between a construction site, a garbage dump and a camping area. We’re spending millions of dollars building their infrastructure and developing capability to manage assets. Once that happens, their capability and quality of life are going to move up pretty quickly. They’re doing it now with makeshift operations rooms, medical buildings, logistic buildings.
How does that affect morale? There’s no shortage of folks who want to join these forces. When you recruit, you have literally hundreds and hundreds of men who want a good-paying job early on. People realize a government job is a fairly secure job with a regular paycheck.
To what do you attribute the recent increase in violence? Since the government was completed several months ago, there are anti-Iraqi forces that want to create problems. … I’ve been monitoring the attacks since I’ve been here. The attacks are down, [though] some are more effective than they were in the past.
Self-rule is all a new concept, the end of a dictatorship. There’s a lot of learning going on. This is a new government – only in office six or seven months. To expect them to operate at a high level is kind of much.
Iraqis have concerns about the government’s ability to protect them. What’s their reaction to the police force? What helped is standardization of their vehicles, uniforms, so that the public knows: “OK, that’s a national policeman.” Prior to us giving them uniforms and having all the vehicles marked, several guys in a vehicle with army-type uniforms would run around the city and do bad things. And everybody gets confused.
I take a picture of every single Iraqi in the uniform holding up a piece of paper they’ve signed and certified that this is the only uniform they’re authorized to wear. People know this is the national police and have confidence that it’s not some militia group. It took some time to make that happen; we’re talking 25,000 men and the vehicles to support them.
Do you feel safe in the city? Have you been fired at? I’ve been all over the city of Baghdad. A lot of areas look like normal city life. People shop, go to work, take kids here and there. Occasionally there will be an explosion or some shooting, and people react to that. As far as us, where I work we’re not in fear of our lives.
I’ve been to Kosovo, Macedonia, and was shot at in Afghanistan. I’ve been in a couple of sort of intense situations. When the Golden Mosque was attacked, I was out in Iraq touring police stations. I’ve been in vehicles that have RPGs shot over them. We’ve been out with the quick-reaction force that hit an IED [improvised explosive device] that took out a vehicle, but everyone was OK. We got right back operating. Sometimes our teams will get shot at, but for the most part we’re pretty secure and safe all over Baghdad.
Are they targeting the police force and civilians? There are thousands and thousands of patrols all over Iraq every single day. And once in a while, an IED goes off and it’s an American or coalition vehicle that was struck. We’re watching and looking for it and we’re detecting it. The civilians that get attacked – a lot of it’s crime; some of it is sectarian violence. With the national police, sometimes they’re attacked at their checkpoint. They’re in the fight; they’re 25,000 strong out there, policing every day.
It has cost us, totally, a trillion dollars, not to mention the loss of civilian lives. What we spend here now in the way of dollars and our combat loss is very painful, but we are here to keep the fight here and not have American citizens go through another 9/11. This is very important for this region, the security of America and our credibility around the world.