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Marines train up elite group within Iraqi police forces

27 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Iraqi police took a leap forward in gaining control of their own streets with the help of Marines.

A group of Iraqi policemen formed a new elite team called Task Force Cobra, designed to take down anti-Iraqi forces near the city southwest of Fallujah.  The team is being trained by Marine reservists who are policemen in their daily lives back in the United States.  They are assigned to the 1st Marine Division as part of the Iraqi Police Liaison Team.

"You're all making history today.  Ten years from now your children will read in their history books about what you're doing here today," said Maj. Mark P. DeVito, the civil affairs team leaders for 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment from San Diego.  "They'll learn how the people of Mahmudiyah were afraid.  They'll learn how you changed that."

The Iraqi men are roughly equivalent to the American version of a Special Weapons and Tactics Team, or SWAT.  The Cobras gathered together at the Iraqi National Guard compound here for four days of advance police training classes.

"These men are the leaders of their police stations.  We're trying to instill this training in them so they can pass it on to their fellow policemen," said Cpl. William P. Schultz, a 26-year-old former police officer from Richmond, Ill.  "We can't teach everything in four days but we hope we can teach the basics.  It's up to them to keep practicing what we teach and keep it fresh."

A different aspect of the skills a policeman possesses was taught each day.  The IPLT used five-hour instructional periods to pass on their knowledge.

"The first day we go over ethics.  It's pretty dry material but is important for the men here to know," Schultz said.

The Iraqi group was shown a slide show that outlined all the morals and ethics a police officer must carry to do their job.  Topics such as not accepting gifts for services and not putting one's tribe above one's duty were covered.

The second day brought the Cobra Team a few more classes.  These were on police survival in a tactical environment.  The third and fourth days gave the policemen the opportunity to try their hand at room clearing and handcuffing techniques.

"We hope these men leave with more pride for what they do," Schultz explained.  "It should make them a lot more proactive on the job."

The policemen enjoyed the practical application sections of the training.

"We find that people have the most fun when they can get hands-on with the training," he added.  "Getting out of the classroom environment makes them more receptive."

The four-day classes are offered in lieu of being able to attend the police academy in Ramadi.  Because of the distance from Mahmudiyah, the IPLT travels to different police districts to pass on the training.

"I've noticed Iraqis learn differently when we teach these classes.  In Ramadi you find a lot of educated men," Schulz said.  "In the south they're not so well educated but they have more discipline.  So you have to keep that in mind when teaching."

Schultz also said motivation among the different groups also lends to the course.  The more willing they are to learn the more in depth the instructors can go into the subject.

Whether the class is motivated or not doesn't affect the quality of training they receive or its results, however.

"Any time they receive training it builds confidence in the job they do.  They just have to be sure it is continued and reinforced," said Sgt. Jim L. Marble, a 36-year-old from Kansas City, Kan., who has served on his city's SWAT team.  "Overall this class helps to identify all these men as leaders and men who will go the extra step.  These are the guys who will be the role models for their departments."