Peacekeeping: Iraqi Border Police

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May 23, 2009: The US Army is hoping to make Iraq's Border Police into one of the few honest, effective frontier forces in the region. Controlling the borders is a major factor in keeping the peace inside Iraq.  The US Army has set up a major training program, called the Border Transition Team (BTT), to train the Border Police in weapons and tactics needed to confront smugglers and shut down their operations, especially along the border with Syria. Although the Border Police are officially a law enforcement organ, the BTT's training program focuses almost exclusively on lethal military skills and the training is largely modeled on the US Army's Basic Combat Training Program. The training has be ongoing since early March and incorporates topics such as clearing buildings, weapons drills, small-unit tactics, patrol skills, and searching vehicles.  

The training received by the Iraqi border cops is far more militarized than that of American or European security forces, and with good reason. Aside from terrorism, smuggling is one of the major security problems that plagues almost every Middle Eastern country outside of the wealthy oil states. Countries like Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt, and even Jordan have long had major issues with narcotics and fuel smuggling, not to mention weapons and fighters crossing borders into places like Iraq and Iran. The Middle East is not a region known for honest cops, so smugglers often either bribe the border guards or, if backed into a corner, shoot at them. Pitiful paychecks do not encourage honesty or integrity. In an environment where the smugglers often behave more like soldiers than petty criminals, Iraq's Border Police are being trained, if necessary, to shoot first and ask questions later. They are also being given addition hazardous duty pay to beef up their regular income. Thus, Iraq's Border Police are basically soldiers with badges. 

The Border Police number around 43,000 troops and are organized into 13 brigades and 51 battalions. New recruits must now graduate from the Interior Ministry Division of Border Enforcement academy. The typical academy training consists of 240 hours of instruction, conducted over about four weeks. In the previous 5 years, the Border Police personnel strength has grown steadily, apparently due to pay raises and improved equipment. There are still some problems, like aging AK-47s, and other elderly weapons, but the troops are becoming more and more competent at their jobs. The Iraqis want to have at least 45,000 of these troops by the end of the year. 

Whatever problems the Iraqi security forces have had, the new Iraqi government is making a serious effort, in combination with the US, to crack down on smuggling and keep its borders monitored for the long-term. Pay raises and better training are making a major impact on the willingness and ability of the Iraqis to police their frontiers. Whether they can keep up the good work in the next few years remains to be seen. 

 


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