IRAQ: Training Iraqi Police is an Uphill Struggle

Facing the constant threat of ambushes, suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices and kidnappers, former Scottsdale, Arizona, Police Chief Michael Heidingsfield travels to police stations and training camps around Iraq - an itinerary, according to on
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More than two years after the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled, former Scottsdale Police Chief Michael Heidingsfield, speaking from the center of the desert storm, is not the voice of sunny optimism. Heidingsfield's candor is refreshing and useful, though, as America assesses its responsibilities in the country it invaded to overturn Saddam's repressive regime.

Heidingsfield, on leave from the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission (he served as Scottsdale chief from 1991-98), is contingent commander of the State Department's civilian police advisory mission. As the top American civilian helping to create an Iraqi police force, he assesses the training of Iraqi police on the ground. The danger he faces is illustrated by statistics released this week: 151 Iraqi cops were killed and 325 wounded in May alone.

Facing the constant threat of ambushes, suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices and kidnappers, Heidingsfield travels to police stations and training camps around Iraq - an itinerary, according to one of his top aides, that is more difficult now than it was when he arrived six months ago.

When the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal's Bartholomew Sullivan caught up with Heidingsfield, six members of his Texas-based DynCorp staff had been killed and nearly 100 others wounded in the past year.

During a series of interviews in Jordan and Iraq, Heidingsfield was brutally honest about factors that will help decide whether the United States is successful in this mission or not.

It's not just al-Qaida that he has to worry about. It's militant Sunnis, it's the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his followers, and it's organized crime.

"My greatest concern is that Iraq, if it is not stabilized, will never get beyond where we are today," he told Sullivan. "And if the level of insurgency were to continue, it will be a daunting challenge to reshape the Iraqi police into an organization that understands that they're critical to the future of the country. That's what worries me."

He described the insurgency as alive and well, expressed the frustration he feels when he hears overly optimistic views of the situation, and at one point said, "It could go on like this forever."

Whatever your views on the war, the message is what Americans need to hear as they gauge the value of a continuing commitment by the American military and civilians to bring security and perhaps even a taste of democracy to Iraq.

There's nothing unpatriotic about being honest in the face of a difficult situation. You don't have to be a die-hard supporter of President Bush to argue that it would be wrong to pull out now and leave the country in chaos.

But what does "forever" mean? This is the kind of legitimate question that a healthy democracy is not afraid to discuss.

And it's extremely useful to have people such as Heidingsfield with the courage to take on such a difficult and dangerous role, the freedom to make up his own mind about the situation and the honesty to tell us what we need to hear.
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