July 20, 2009: Countries around the world place high priority on protecting dignitaries and executives, but in Iraq the chances of assassination attempts and kidnappings are much higher, even by Middle Eastern standards. Therefore, most countries have their own dignitary protection units, like the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Marshal Service, but typically these agencies and units are of limited size and security is often so tight that few would bother attempting any kind of attack. It's different in Iraq, because of the high number of attacks. Thus Iraq's security services have to not only be competent, but larger in number than any of the U.S, agencies that specialize in VIP (Very Important Person) protection.
In Iraq, assassinations and kidnappings are daily occurrences and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are desperately trying to improve the quality of their protection specialists, along with their ability to conduct more visible operations, like raids and offensives against insurgent groups. U.S. Special Forces are currently training Iraqi Personal Security Details, primarily in the Ninewa province, to protect government officials, especially during and in the run-up to elections.
U.S. Special Forces typically run five-day courses for the Iraqi students, most of whom already have some kind of security experience. The course covers marksmanship, medical care, and dignitary security techniques. The medical training is primarily first-responder aid, meant to keep the VIP alive long enough for emergency medical personnel to arrive on the scene following an attack. Marksmanship focuses on rifle and sidearm accuracy. Finally, protective formations and evacuation procedures make up the final portion of the course.
After the individual portions of the course are taught, U.S. advisors require the students to run-through practice simulations, such as evacuating an official from a danger area or escorting them to a government briefing. The point is to not only gain practice, but give the Iraqi students the opportunity to see how protection success is primarily based on how well the team works together.
Training personal security details has become an integral part of the war in Iraq, since the murder of government officials, police chiefs, and prominent community members has long been a favorite weapon in the terrorist arsenal. It still happens, but the increased competency and training of the Iraqi bodyguards is making it more difficult to execute such attacks successfully. Often, attacks are either uncovered before they can be pulled off or the security teams thwart the attacks in progress.
Previously, bodyguards in Iraq for police chiefs, sheiks, and government officials had been an assorted collection of individuals whose competence and reliability ranged from capable to treacherous. Protection details, up until recently, were no different from other elements of the Iraqi Security Forces. That is, there were widespread problems with militia/terrorist infiltration, corruption, as well as a lack of determination on the part of the security troops. In 2006, many Iraqi officials were so worried that their movements could be tracked by the conspicuousness of their bodyguards, that some decided to arm themselves and waive their rights to a security detail. With U.S. help, the protection situation has improved markedly and Iraqi officials now actually trust their own guards.
Training for elite Iraqi security details has typically been carried out by the US Army's Civilian Police Assistance Training Team. This program handles specialized training for the Iraqi police's Special Weapons and Tactics teams (SWAT), emergency response, and dignitary protection. In previous years, the program has also been responsible for equipping the Iraqi units they train with weapons and equipment, which is a major reason why such units carry advanced light weapons instead of the aging AKMs that many regular Iraqi police continue to be stuck with.