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U.S. cops help train Iraqi police officers

Brian Acree relies on experience and an easygoing Southern style to get through frustrating situations.

October 04, 2008|Doug Smith and Saif Rasheed | Times Staff Writers

RAMADI, IRAQ — Like most days in the field for Atlanta cop Brian Acree, this one was shaping up as a polite but determined competition between the Army way, the Iraqi way and the Georgia way.

Acree, a towering, slow-walking, shaved-headed police investigator, was crammed into an 8-by-10 office with three U.S. soldiers, three Iraqi policemen and an interpreter.

As the air conditioner weakly rumbled in the background, U.S. Army Sgt. Chai Kim lectured his Iraqi counterpart on the proper role of a logistics officer.

"They keep the numbers on the vehicles. They don't fix them," Kim said through the interpreter. "How many trucks? Who took it out? How many miles? What purpose?"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, October 09, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Iraqi police training: An article in Saturday's Section A about American police officers in Iraq to train Iraqi police officers said that the 800 Americans were working under a DynCorp International contract with the U.S. military. Although DynCorp's trainers work with the military, the contract mentioned in the article is with the U.S. State Department.

Iraqi police 1st Lt. Mushtaq Talib answered dourly.

"The motor pool, they have a guy for that," he said.

"That is going to change," Kim replied. "Being a logistics officer is about money management."

Acree stayed silent. But later, he let Mushtaq know that he thought Kim might have been a little inflexible.

"You know how to get your job done and I know you know," he had the interpreter tell the young Iraqi officer.

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A key assignment

Acree, on leave from his post with the Georgia state police, is in the capital of Anbar province as a civilian consultant to the Ramadi Police Department. Eighteen months after the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq was run out of town, his job is to help rebuild a key institution in the western province.

Acree is one of about 800 civilian police officers working under a military contract with DynCorp International. Unlike the thousands of civilian contractors who have come to Iraq to supplement the military, Acree and his colleagues don't provide security services. They're here to impart their experience in urban police work to a young and inadequately trained and equipped force.

The consultants, whose pay starts at $134,000 a year, are assigned to U.S. military police units and travel in convoys of Humvees. Acree and two other DynCorp contractors bunk with a company of Marines in an abandoned warehouse on Ramadi's eastern outskirts.

The cops weren't authorized by DynCorp to give interviews, but the military police unit allowed The Times to come along for two days to observe the training program.

The unit has been teaching neophyte Iraqi policemen, known as shortas, basic skills such as arrest procedures, traffic control and field communications. DynCorp runs formal classes on specialized subjects such as detective technique at the main military base, Camp Ramadi.

Acree and his roommates also make the rounds of the city's police stations to work with more senior officers, trying to improve procurement practices, discipline and accountability.

Like many of his colleagues, Acree, 37, is older than the MPs he works with and sometimes has more tolerance for the tradition-bound style of the Iraqi police, even as he pushes them toward a Western model.

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Long-range view

Acree, who arrived in Ramadi in March, has made a commitment to stay in Iraq a year and expects to sign up for a second year. Because U.S. military units often deploy for less than a year, Acree was working with the Ramadi police before the arrival of the 914th Military Police, the unit he stays with, and will remain after it's gone. That, combined with his languid Southern style, gives him a longer-range view of his mission.

At times, a deep tolerance for frustration is Acree's most useful skill.

One morning, he and the MP unit commander, Staff Sgt. Jeff Klein, were dumbfounded by the timing of a request from the commander of the Adala station on the southern edge of Ramadi. The previous week, a worker using an earthmover had discovered 11 bodies in a shallow grave. An Iraqi lieutenant colonel asked Klein to send a forensic team to the scene.

Incredulous, Acree said it was far too late.

"Next time he finds a crime scene, if he needs our help, he needs to call us immediately," Acree told the interpreter.

Later, Acree told the Iraqi officer he was alarmed when he saw two mopeds enter the station without being searched.

"Ask him who searches people at the police station," Acree said. "There needs to be one on the ground and one in the tower. The guy in the tower may know the guy in the moped. But how well does he know him? He needs to at least stop him and look in the moped."

Then, catching himself, Acree acknowledged the limitation of his authority.

"Tell him I'm not demanding, just asking," he said.

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Gentle persuasion

Later in the day, Acree adopted a more understanding tone when he teamed with Kim to counsel Mushtaq, the young logistics officer he obviously respected and liked.

After Kim grilled Mushtaq about his job duties, Acree moved on to what he considered a more serious problem: the station's armory. AK-47 assault rifles were stored in a room at the end of a hallwhere detainees were lined up each day to wait their turn in the bathroom.

Worse, the ammunition was stored in the same room, and the shorta assigned to guard it was unarmed.

"Why do you have shortas in charge of the armory when he doesn't have a gun?" Acree asked. "I think he needs to have a Glock on his side."

"You have to be an officer to have a sidearm," Mushtaq told Kim.

Kim then instructed Mushtaq to assign his pistol to the guard each day, a prospect that put a sour look on Mushtaq's face. Noticing that Mushtaq didn't even have a holster for his gun and stowed it in his desk drawer, Acree found a way to defuse the tension.

"Ask him if he has a holster for his gun," he told the interpreter.

Mushtaq shook his head.

"Tell him tomorrow I'm going to give him a holster that's mine," he said.

A brightened Mushtaq then led them to the other side of the station, where the departing Marine unit had lived. It was going to be the new armory, he said.

Seeing a look on Mushtaq's face that seemed to crave approval, he told the interpreter:

"Tell him if I didn't like him I wouldn't be here with him."

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doug.smith@latimes.com

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