In Iraq, the U.S. learned that setting up an effective local constabulary during conflict requires broad agreement on the police force’s roles and mission, a clear division of police and military responsibilities, and role models who can train and mentor candidate officers on their moral obligation to protect society.



  • In 2004, the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces faced a growing challenge from insurgents and militia groups as the country drifted toward civil war. In street battles with heavily armed insurgent and militia groups, Iraq’s fledgling police units mutinied under fire and resigned en masse, pointing out shortfalls in the U.S. police training program.
  • In response, the U.S. government transferred leadership of the U.S. police assistance program from the State Department to the Defense Department, which created heavy police tactical units capable of dealing with armed groups. At the same time, the Iraqi interior ministry independently organized police commando units composed of former Iraqi soldiers that successfully fought alongside U.S. military forces.
  • In 2005, the installation of a new Iraqi government and the escalation of sectarian violence brought a change in the composition of the Iraqi police commando units. The new interior minister, a senior Shiite party official, enabled members of Shiite militia groups to take over the police commando units and engage in the kidnap, torture, and murder of Sunnis.
  • To control police death squads, the U.S. military combined all of Iraq’s heavy police and police commando units into a new entity, the Iraq National Police (INP). In October 2006, the U.S. military began a program to retrain police commando units that were engaged in sectarian violence. 
  • Over the following year, Iraq’s new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, undertook a program to reform the INP, appointing a new commanding general, purging the officer corps, and inviting a training team from the Italian Carabinieri to provide advanced instruction for INP units.
  • In 2007, INP units successfully partnered with U.S. combat brigade teams that were deployed to Baghdad as part of President Bush’s surge of U.S. military force into Iraq. Over the next two years, the valor of Iraqi constabulary units and their acceptance in both Sunni and Shiite areas brought a new name, the Iraq Federal Police (IFP), and the deployment of an IFP unit to every province in the country.
  • Lessons learned in the development of an indigenous police constabulary in Iraq should be applied to current and future stability operations.

About this Report

This report chronicles U.S. efforts to train and equip an indigenous constabulary force to control insurgent and militia violence in Iraq. The United States does not have constabulary forces. In earlier conflicts, the United States called upon the United Nations or European allies to provide a gendarmerie. In Iraq, the UN police forces that were a feature of peace operations in the Balkans were not available, leaving the United States with only one option—to develop an Iraqi constabulary force under fire.


About the Author

Robert M. Perito is the director of the Center of Innovation for Security Sector Governance at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He joined the Institute after a distinguished career as a U.S. foreign service officer and service as acting director of the international police training program at the Department of Justice. He is the author of Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? America’s Search for a Postconflict Stability Force and other books on the role of police in peace and stability operations.

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