Forces: Iraqi Special Police Units

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August 10, 2007: Although most of the 138,000 Iraqi police are local cops, who patrol neighborhoods and man checkpoints, there is an elite force of several thousand SWAT and Reaction Force units. The 21 SWAT units have a strength of about 30 men each, and are trained for, well, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) operations. There are also several Emergency Reaction Force battalions, for dangerous operations (large scale raids and search operations) that require more manpower. These units can contain up to 600 policemen each. But these units tend to be temporary. Only the SWAT units, and a few small Emergency Reaction Force units are permanent. Each province has one SWAT team, with three of the larger provinces having two each.

A controversial new police organization is the Emergency Response Unit (ERU). These are being formed in Sunni Arab areas that have, in the past year (especially since the surge offensive began) come under government control. The men for ERUs are recruited locally, and are often commanded by tribal leaders. This does not go down well with many members of the government (which is dominated by Shia Arabs). The ERUs are armed by the government, and supplied with other equipment. Many Shia Arabs believe this stuff will end up in the hands of Sunni Arab terrorists, who will use it to kill Shia Arabs. So far, the ERUs have been going after al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorists, but that might change. In April, there were only about 2,500 men in ERUs. Now there are about four times as many. American commanders consider the ERUs essential for keeping the peace, and keeping the Sunni Arab terrorists down, in Sunni Arab areas (particularly the Baghdad suburbs, and western Iraq.) The ERU cops get two to six weeks training, and the constant attention of American military and police advisors.

Iraqi police tend to come under the control of local tribal leaders, crime bosses or warlords. This is nothing new, and predates the fall of Saddam. But these compromised cops are also used for illegal activities, the worst being death squads.

 


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