The first group of police recruits trained in the southern Iraq city of Zubayr hit the streets on Friday. The 35 police recruits underwent a week's basic training by British military police and will remain under their supervision for several weeks or months.
In nearby Basra, Iraq's second largest city, a similar programme is currently under way. The need for extra policing in the area was highlighted after mobs of looters rampaged through southern towns and cities after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Lt Joseph Murray of the Royal Military Police said the aim was to get Iraqis back to policing themselves as soon as possible. "They know the area, they know the people, they have more respect from the people, who see the army as foreign people, which we are."
The local people would trust the Iraqi policemen, and this would lead to a more effective and efficient job, he said. "It's important to get the Iraqi people and Iraqi police force on the ground to show people that they are not being seized by a dictatorship, and that the Iraqis will rule Iraq from now on."
Recruits were being taught basic things like how to make arrests, with the Iraqis explaining how they used to do things in the past. "So we're just trying to teach them our values at the moment and see if they agree with them and how we approach certain situations," he added.
Murray said they would work alongside British troops on patrol for the first few weeks, but the hope was that the Iraqis would gradually take over when they had learnt how to conduct investigations fairly and properly. "We are trying to help the people of Iraq liberate themselves."
Some of the recruits had been policemen under the former regime, and efforts had been made to screen the applicants to make sure their backgrounds were suitable for the new job. "We have got to be very careful about whom we employ in case they are bad people from the old regime," said Murray.
Moreover, he pointed out, all the recruits were being monitored and on probation at the moment. One of them, Amr Shihab, was a policeman for 10 years before the war; he said one of the biggest differences was that he was now no longer armed. However, the fact that the British had guns made him feel secure. He had enjoyed being a policeman before and was keen to return to the role and start earning money again after weeks without work.
At present, the policemen will be paid US $20 a month. Another recruit, Abd al-Rida Sawadi, said that with the current unrest and uncertainty in the country it was better that the British helped them re-establish a police force. After 30 years of control by the old regime, it would take time for Iraqis to take full control themselves, he predicted.
In an address to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last Thursday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the occupying powers in Iraq to demonstrate "through their actions that they accept the responsibilities of the occupying power for public order and safety, and the well-being of the civilian population".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions