Jan Berry, the leader of the Police Federation, which represents Britain’s 132,000 law enforcement officers, told Aljazeera Net, “I know that next week a set of officers are going to be deployed to begin training.”
The Foreign Office described Berry’s claim as "premature", but it is known that more than 200 British officers have already been identified to take part in the exercise, which would precede their being dispatched to Iraq, or a third country.
A turf war between the Foreign Office and Home Office over whether the UK deployment should be under British auspices or as part of a "wider pool", appears to be complicating matters.
On Monday, a meeting of British and international government officials will discuss what contributions could be made to an international policing and training operation in Iraq. By the end of the week, a donors conference in Madrid could be discussing who would pay for it.
"I know that next week a set of officers are going to be deployed to begin training"
Leader of Police Federation
According to the Save the Children spokesman, Brendan Paddy, “They’ll be trying to raise $55 billion in Madrid and, from what I hear, an extremely pressing need will be to get a trusted and effective Iraqi police force in place.”
Initially, reports had suggested that a force would be sent to Iraq in the new year, but uncertainty quickly set in over where it should be stationed, what its role should be, and how it should relate to a possibly 1500-strong international contingent.
As recently as 14 October, the Assistant Chief Constable for Northern Ireland, Stephen White, who is in charge of security in the southern city of Basra complained that he had been given insufficient resources to do his job.
He said he found it embarrassing that officials in Whitehall thought the streets of Basra were too unsafe for British bobbies.
“I believe that there's a case for police experts from around the world coming here and that's what I think should happen, not holding off until things get better, because they may not get better,” he said.
Jan Berry though was unsympathetic to his concerns. “My understanding is that we’ve met every request that he has made so I’m bemused as to why he has indicated that we could do more,” she said.
Earlier in the week though, Berry herself had not been immune to the confusion surrounding the mission.
“People are not certain exactly what the officers would be used for and until that clarity is there, it would be wrong to send them to do a job that no-one is quite sure what it is,” she had told me then.
If the fog is now lifting, it may reveal that British officers are not to be deployed inside Mesopotamia at all.
“My understanding is that the intention was to train Iraqi police officers in Iraq but that the decision has now been taken that they’ll be trained outside the country,” Berry said.
UK troops have often faced Iraqi
wrath in Basra
In the event of deployment inside Iraq, Brendan Paddy, the spokesman for Oxfam, had a word of caution for Iraq-bound UK police officers.
“Being closely associated with British or US military forces will increase your chances of being targeted,” Paddy said.
There were three key problems that officers in Iraq would have to face. “The first thing they’ll have to deal with is the language barrier and a degree of suspicion or cultural misunderstanding. The second thing will be a great deal of criminal activity.”
“Third and most seriously, there are well-organised people who are targeting not just military groups but also people taking part in development and reconstruction work. The fact that they don’t have a military dimension would not prevent them from being targeted,” Paddy argued.
To try to reduce the risks, both Brendan Paddy and Jan Berry stressed that "community policing" to try to win Iraqi hearts and minds would be an important element of any training or policing operation. Jan Berry though pinpointed some other key skills that participating officers would need.
“They’ll need to be firearms trained,” she said, “and they’ll have to have good communications and operation skills with regards to public order situations and quelling public disorder.”