Brig. Gen. David Phillips on how the Iraqi police force is standing up.
HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Brigadier General David D. Phillips. He is the deputy commanding general of the CPATT, and we’re talking to him from Baghdad tonight. General, thanks for staying up late. It’s great to talk to you.
DP: Hey, no problem. It’s good to talk to you, too.
HH: Now you’re a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and therefore, before we get to the important and good work you’re doing over there, I’ve just got to ask did you see the draft, General?
DP: I did not get to see it. I’ve been actually waiting to hear. We were a little tied up for the past two days, but I am a diehard Cleveland fan, always have been.
HH: Well, they picked up Joe Thomas and Brady Quinn, General, so it was a great day for Cleveland.
HH: Maybe we can meet up at the Cleveland Browns stadium sometime. General, tell people what you are doing over there with the civilian police assistance training team.
DP: Okay, what we’re doing is we are the organization that’s equipping, training and basically fielding the entire police force for the nation of Iraq, from the border police to the port of entry police, highway patrol, patrol police, the criminal investigations and their everyday, average, local cop. And this is my…I’ve actually been over here three times, the first time just a few months in the fall of 2003. But when I came back for the entire year of 2004, I was here all the way through the elections in January of ’05, I stood up the first police academy in Baghdad. And now when I come back this time, the Iraqis are doing it. As opposed to the military police training Iraqis like they were in 2004, now it’s Iraqis training Iraqis.
HH: Now General Phillips, about a year ago, I had an extended conversation with General Abizaid. And he indicated then that the police were lagging behind the army in their ability to stand up, but that he had hoped to get that accelerated to correct that, and to improve the quality and effectiveness of the police. How has the last year gone with regards to the security in the police, their infiltration by the militias, et cetera?
DP: Well, that’s really an interesting question, because when you take a look at…right now, we’ve got just under 200,000 trained police officers that either we trained initially, or now the Iraqis are training themselves. There’s about another 100,000, 110,000 what they call federal protective services, basically, security guards at the various ministries and museums, places like that. When you really compare are the police standing up and holding their own or not, we’re training police, and now the Iraqis are training them, to be policemen, not to be soldiers. So what we’re doing is training them be a policeman as if they would be trained to work in Cleveland, as opposed to Baghdad. When you add on top of that, though, the insurgency and the terrorists, and those people that want to see this country fail, we’re talking about regular police officers trying to stand up to that. Yes, they have AK-47’s, and they also have their side arms, but a lot of times they’re outgunned. The army, the Iraqi army, they’re much more, they’re trained as a unit, they go out and function as a unit, and normally, they’re deployed someplace within the country. When you speak of the militia influence, most police officers are recruited locally, and after they go to training someplace in the country, because we have 13 academies up and running, and they go back to their home town, they have the same influences on them that they had before they left. So if an area is heavily infiltrated by Jaish al Mahdi, they’re going to go back to that environment, because they’re really, we are training local police officers.
HH: And how is…
DP: Again, I…go ahead.
HH: How is the senior leadership of the police force? Are they professionals in the sense that out in Los Angeles, we’ve got a great chief of police, I’m sure Cleveland’s got a great chief. Are these the same quality of professionals they have in their leadership?
DP: In leadership, yes, but we’re talking difference…again, the cultural difference, which you know, that right there is one issue. But I deal very closely with the Iraqi chief of police for Baghdad, and also their national police administrator. As a matter of fact, he, I consider so effective, and I have known for several years now that I even hosted him to the United States about ten months ago, where he came in and did some training at Quantico with the FBI, and then he came up and worked with Army CID, and actually took him around Washington. We had a great time. Now, we’re back over here, and he’s functioning. And he’s coming to work every day. And unlike the chief there in Los Angeles, who probably has some crazies out there that you know, would try to harm him, for the most part, 99.9% of the people in Los Angeles would try to waive at him.
DP: Here, you never know when somebody’s going to take a shot at him. And that’s why yes, they’re professional, yes, they’re working hard, no, they’re not in the same level as ours are, but that’s probably because of training, too, and they’re operating under an insurgency.
HH: Now talking with Brigadier General David Phillips live in Baghdad this evening. General, I know that Saddam emptied a lot of his prisons right before the March, 2003 invasion, and that there is a common criminal violent element that is part of the instability in Iraq. How effective are the Iraqi police against that, their ordinary opponent, the ordinary criminal, killer, thug?
DP: We’ve actually just…they have stood up a new tool that they’re using that’s exceptionally effective. The former regime may have done many things, but one thing they did good is they kept records. And we recovered a majority of their records of those individuals that were in prison, the fingerprints, and we’ve added them into an Iraqi AFIS system, which is an automated fingerprint identification system. And if the coalition forces pick up anybody as a detainee, they’re put into the biometrics database with the fingerprints and the retinal scan. We run queries of every single person that wants to become a police officer, or that gets apprehended, and we can track it back now. We can find out if they were a criminal incarcerated before the war. Also, we can find out now who out there was picked up by coalition, and then subsequently released and is getting picked up again. So I would say we’ve given them some tools here, and they’re effectively using them. As for solving crime in the neighborhood?
DP: Well, I have to tell you, here’s what I saw the other day. I went across the 3rd I.D. bridge into the Kark area of Baghdad. This is an area that when I’ve been down in, I never saw kids playing, and there’s actually parks that run along the Tigris River. Just this past week when I went down there, there were traffic police at the traffic circle, and they got our humvees through it in an expeditious manner, the traffic wasn’t plugged, because they kept it flowing, and then I saw police officers on the street, which is really a lot better than in 2004. In 2004, I’d have to hunt to find where the police officers are. So the fact that they were out, kids were across the street in this huge park area playing. I never saw that before. So I believe the only way the parents are going to let the kids out is if they have a little bit of faith of what’s going to take place out there. So I would say they are stopping crime where they’re at. As for investigating crime, we’ve given them some tools there, and I’ve seen some pretty good successes with them picking up some insurgents, kidnappers, and some of the basic petty crime. They’re jails, they definitely have quite a few folks in their jails, and we do monitor what are they in there for, and we’ll pull the records, we’ll then go through the records with a linguist, and then find out why have they not gone to a judge yet to be either, you know, retained and held over, kind of the way our grand juries do it, to hold them over.
HH: Now that brings to…that idea of, the back end of the justice system, I don’t see much reporting on the criminal courts and on long term incarceration. We don’t hear of any prisons other than of course Abu Ghraib. What is their capacity to try, sentence and imprison effectively and humanely over the long haul?
DP: Well, when we stood up their entire criminal justice system, we stood up the police much faster than we stood up the court system, and then the correction system, although we’re catching up on that. General Petraeus’, one of his major initiatives, is our rule of law complex right here in Baghdad, to where we have the judges actually live, work, and they run their cases right there. And these are the judges that make the determination is there probable cause to hold this individual over, or do they kick them loose. Then, they would do their investigation and the follow up if they hold them over. And then transport them to either Badush prison, which can handle about 6,000 inmates up north by Mosul. We have several prisons that are down in this area, Rusafa being one of them, where they can handle, well, they’ll hopefully be able to handle up to about 8,000 by this summer when the construction’s done. So the entire triad of the criminal justice system is now starting to come online, and I think you’re going to see a lot more of this in the news very shortly, because one of the judges just made a ruling that he’ll start televising his cases, and we’re getting the cameras put into his courtroom right there at the rule of law complex, so that the Iraqis can see justice taking place.
HH: Now General Phillips, you’ve been there, this is your third tour of duty in Iraq. As between the beginning of the invasion and today, have you sensed a corner being turned? I know that there’s a relentlessness against optimism because of the complexity of the situation. I listened to General Petraeus’ comments when he was back in the States last week. But from your perspective, on your third go-round down in Iraq, are you seeing what Americans hoped to see in terms of the planning of a stable Iraq?
DP: We’re getting there. When you take a look at it, about 75-80% of this country is pretty peaceful. You have a lot of violence by the insurgents up north, up out in al Anbar, and then here in the Baghdad area, and actually just north, too, in Diwaniyah. But we’re starting to see some control there. Al Anbar, the Marines are making some great advances with some of their interaction with the local tribes and sheiks. It looks like we’re going to be moving forward there. In Baghdad, early on, you could walk the streets. Then, you know, that changed in early 2004, to where there was a lot of danger. Now, I personally would not walk the streets without my security, but when I see kids playing, that gives me optimism. And when I see Iraqi police out there without anyone forcing them to be out there, I’m optimistic about that. I believe we’ve got the police almost to where we’re going to have the. If you take the insurgents and the terrorists out of the mix, I believe the Iraqi police force could stand up today, and go pretty much toe to toe with any other police force in this part of the world. Not perfect, but we have a functioning police force. It’s just, you know, when you put it on top of an insurgency, it complicates the matter quite a bit. I’m optimistic, though.
HH: General Phillips, tell me as well, you came into this command having been the deputy provost marshal of the Army, so you’ve got sort of a big, broad vision of how the Army is doing. Focusing on the United States Army’s ability to set up police forces, I’m not sure we really had much skill in that in 2003. Obviously, we’ve got some skill in it now. How much is the Army learning on the job, and how effectively are they doing that?
DP: Well, I think you’ve got some great non-commissioned officers, and junior officer who are out there. They’ve learned basic tools of being, of criminal justice and law enforcement, although that’s not the core function of the military police. It’s only one of four other parts. But when you get over here and start doing it, you know, what trained me to go into a police station and tell them how to set it up? Some of it is common sense, some of it’s just good soldiering, because a lot of the skills go hand in hand, and are very parallel with that. I’ve got some choppers flying over right now, so that may cause a little interference here.
HH: Sure. And how is the morale of the men and women that you lead in the Army there?
DP: I’ve got a lot of choppers going overhead. We do a lot of flying in the evening.
DP: But I will tell you the morale is very good, but I recently watched a battalion, a military police battalion out of Fort Hood, uncase its colors here in country for the third time. And a lot of the non-commissioned officers I saw in that battalion, they’re here for the third time. When I…they were professional, they were generally glad to see me, and I was glad to see them, but I could see third time over here, it’s wearing on their families. I’m familiar with many of their spouses, because we’ve been assigned together. It’s getting hard on the soldiers. I wouldn’t tell you it’s not. Leaving your family is very difficult. When you’re coming into a combat zone, I have to tell you, the Army wife is probably one of the hardest jobs there is. And my wife is my backbone on this one, and here I am over here again.
HH: That speaks to the need, doesn’t it, General, to get the Army bigger? I know that both parties agree on that, but it takes a while to train up new divisions, doesn’t it?
DP: Absolutely. Even though we’re bringing in…and I use military police companies, because that’s pretty much what I focus on. But we’re standing up eight new military police companies in the next year. While we can produce the soldiers through the training base, but you have to also produce the leaders. It takes a little while to do that, so yeah, you can’t do this overnight. We can’t just say that we need all these soldiers in just a few months, because we won’t get there. We have to have a longer plan, but we can definitely increase, and we need to increase if we’re keeping up this op tempo. Coming around every year is tough.
HH: One last question, because I appreciate your staying up so late. When you talk to your counterparts in the Iraqi police force, and their civilian colleagues, are they optimistic about the future of Iraq, a year or three years down the road?
DP: You know, sometimes, people will tell you what they think you want to hear, but I’m very close with a couple of the Iraqi senior police officials, and they’re very optimistic. And I really watch where are their families. If their families are still here in Baghdad, that means I believe them. If I see that they have sent their families over to Jordan, or sent them to over to Egypt, then I know okay, this is a matter of time until they go. Everyone of the ones I’m working with now, the senior leadership that we currently have in, their families are here. And I’ve been invited over to one of their quarters for dinner, although that’s going to be a little problematic to go, because I’ll probably bring more trouble by just showing up there in the neighborhood, because we try to, they try to keep a low profile. They’re optimistic, the ones that I’m dealing with.
HH: Well, Brigadier General David Phillips, thank you for your service, and thank you for your time so late at night to bring us up to date, and good luck and God speed in your mission getting the Iraqi police force up to speed.
DP: Well, Hugh, thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you, and I’d just like to say one thing, go Tribe.
HH: Go Tribe, and they are the best in the American League Central right now. With Generals like that, how can we go wrong? General Phillips, thanks.
DP: Thanks a lot, Hugh. You have a great day.
HH: You, too.
End of interview.