Mosul Needs 35,000 Cops
The Italians are on the job
With the sound of small-arms fire popping away at a range in the background, an instructor from Italy’s military police force — the Carabinieri — expertly flips over a rifle to demonstrate a swift and efficient reload to the students in front of him.
The students are members of the Kurdish Zeravani, which are likewise a military police force. They fumble with their rifles in an effort to replicate his smooth motions.
The Carabinieri instructors that are present are nevertheless pleased with what they see. The students are only a few days into their training, which lasts for weeks or even up to a year, but they appear engaged and eager to learn.
They’d better be. The Italians estimated it could take more than 30,000 skilled policemen to maintain order in Mosul alone, once Islamic State surrenders the strategic city.
Although today’s session is on the proper use of their weapons, the overall focus of this class for the Zeravani is on police work. The classes in this program, taught in English and translated into Kurdish, are specifically intended to develop capabilities such as crime scene investigation, conducting vehicle and body searches, setting up checkpoints and the like.
The training, taking place at a sprawling site on the outskirts of Erbil known as the Zeravani Tiger Training Center, is a joint effort on the part of the Western governments operating against Islamic State including the Americans, Italians, British and Germans, but also the Dutch, Norwegians, Finns and Hungarians, who don’t receive as much attention for their involvement.
In order to unify the military assistance being offered by these many nations, they agreed to operate under an umbrella known as the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center. The Italians, second only to the Americans in the number of troops they have on the ground in Iraq, are offering something unique though.
Eleonora Giuliani photo
Italy is the only country offering police training in all of Iraq, including Kurdistan.
The idea of police work in a region ravaged by full-scale warfare may, at first glance, seem of secondary importance. However, it should be emphasized that the Zeravani, just like their Carabinieri instructors, are a military police force.
During times of peace, Italy’s Carabinieri serve a police function. Should Italy find itself at war, however, the Carabinieri would be moved into regular combat roles. In other words, they wear two hats.
The Kurdish Zeravani operate in the same manner. They are under the control of the Kurdish Ministry of the Interior, but are also a part of the Peshmerga — the military forces of Kurdistan — thus providing support to civilian police and to the military.
Eleonora Giuliani photo
“This dual role seems to be a good fit for the complexities of the landscape of Kurdistan,” one Italian cop said. The individual Carabinieri instructors asked to maintain their anonymity. “One minute they might need to be policemen doing police work and the next minute they might need to be soldiers.”
However, police work is increasingly relevant in Kurdistan as the threat from Islamic State has evolved with the numerous setbacks the extremist group has experienced since its peak in the summer of 2014. Islamic State has now been completely pushed out of the territory claimed by Kurdistan and is seemingly close to being pushed out of Iraq as well.
Therefore, the concern for Kurdistan at this time is on addressing an insurgency rather than engaging in large-scale, mechanized warfare.
Many in Kurdistan express the belief that an Islamic State operating as an insurgency will actually be more dangerous for Kurdistan than they are in their present form. “ISIS will be more dangerous after they are completely defeated than they are now. Now they are contained within the territory they hold, but after defeat they will be everywhere,” one Carabinieri reasoned.
The methods for contending with an insurgency are quite distinct from that of a conventional war. An insurgency requires police work. A specific example one Carabinieri instructor cited is that of an insurgent bomb-maker. Improvised Explosive Devices are among the most potent weapons in the insurgents’ arsenal.
They are quite deadly, but also, in experienced hands, are simple to prepare and to place. “It may take soldiers to clear a city held by an occupying enemy, but it takes the work of a police detective to carefully pick apart an IED, preserve potential evidence and then follow up on fingerprints or traces of DNA to track down a bomb maker hidden in the general population,” the Carabinieri instructor explained.
Eleonora Giuliani photo
The training by the Italians takes place at three sites in Kurdistan — Sulaymaniyah, Atrush and Erbil — with Erbil hosting the largest training center. In Iraq as a whole, there is also a contingent of Carabinieri running a training program in Baghdad for the Iraqi government.
During our visit, the Italians gave the impression that they enjoyed their work and often lightheartedly joked around with Capt. Darsem Mawlud, the Kurdish coordination officer at the training center. However, they say that things are not always this easygoing. Sometimes in the beginning of a class they can face resistance from the students.
The Carabinieri are quite aware of the fact that they are offering advice to Kurdish men and women who have sometimes been fighting for decades. However, these same individuals, while not lacking in bravery or experience, are all too often almost completely untrained. Addressing this incongruity can require a fair degree of diplomacy.
The instructors explained they take a soft touch on their work with the Kurds. Rather than simply telling the Kurds the “right” way to perform a task, the Italians will have the Zeravani show them how they do something, such as handcuffing a suspect. After the Kurds demonstrate their methods, the Italians will then show the Zeravani how the Italian Carabinieri do the same thing.
The methods the Italians demonstrate typically allow for safer handling of suspects or more accurate pistol fire or some other form of improvement on whatever the subject under discussion might be. The Kurdish students can observe this and consequently their resistance to try out and adopt the methods utilized by the Carabinieri dissipates.
Thus, the exercise avoids bruising delicate egos and becomes an exchange of experiences rather than a hierarchical student-teacher relationship.
Although with the military and police training they are conducting, the Italians have trained many thousands of Iraqis and Kurds, one Carabinieri said that 35,000 policemen will be needed to secure Mosul after Islamic State has been pushed out.
With numbers like that, he speculated that the Italians and other Western powers that make up the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center would be needed in this part of the world for many years to come.