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Comparing Belfast and Baghdad

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Even before the Petraeus and Crocker reports, Congress received a number of high-level assessments of the situation in Iraq.

One came last week from an independent commission headed by retired Marine General James Jones. As requested by Congress, the commission looked at all branches of Iraqi Security Forces its members included retired military officers and police officials who have served in major American cities and as well as one from Northern Ireland.

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Duncan McCausland has grappled with the issues of sectarianism and policing before. As assistant chief constable for the urban region based in Belfast, he's responsible for 12 districts and over 4,000 police and civilian employees.

Welcome to the program, Constable McCausland.

Mr. DUNCAN McCAUSLAND (Assistant Chief Constable, Northern Ireland): Thank you very much for inviting me on today, Jacki.

LYDEN: Sir, how much of the violence that you saw in Iraq is a matter, in your opinion, for soldiers to handle and how much of it requires the work of police?

Mr. McCAUSLAND: I think that the - one of the key successes to the future for Iraq would be if the police can take (Foreign language spoken), in other words can take charge of internal security situation and the military, either Iraq or coalition soldiers, can be redeployed to protect the borders and to ensure the integrity of Iraq as a nation.

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LYDEN: Your commission had scathing criticism for the Iraqi National Police, a special branch of 25,000 members that reports directly to the prime minister's office. What were your criticisms and tell us a bit more about how they function.

Mr. McCAUSLAND: Well, our concerns we're very much that the national police where, as you describe, only one unit of the police 25,000. Remember there are 230,000 other Iraqi police. The national police were made of 85 percent Shia, 13 percent Sunni. We clearly identified from interviews on the ground with many, many people across Iraq, considerable concern for the national police as a sectarian organizations, who in effect went in and broke the law, for example, kidnapped people and actually we're responsible a number of months ago for murdering people. Now that is something that a police service - any government can not allow to continue on. And that's why we made a very clear recommendation not to disband this part of the police, but actually to reformat, to reconstruct it and to remission it so that it could be effective for helping the rest of the community move forward.

LYDEN: And also must report to somebody other than the head politician, the prime minister.

Mr. McCAUSLAND: We were very clear that the reconstructed national police would come under the control of the provincial police chiefs. And would potential reflect the ethnic and religious breakdown of the area that they were actually going to work in.

LYDEN: Constable, what similarities did you see between the challenges of the police during the three decades of the troubles in Northern Ireland and the challenges that police in Iraq face today?

Mr. McCAUSLAND: Well, I think fundamentally, the principles were similar sadly between the problems that we had here in Northern Ireland and the problems of the people of Iraq are facing. It all seemed to revolve around the issue of sectarianism. For a police force or for any government to be successful, it must have political reconciliation. It must be able to nation build. It requires as a basic democratic rate, the consent and support of the people that it's policing.

LYDEN: One of the things I found intriguing here, I've reported in years past from Northern Island, was that perception is part of the problem. And you say that at the height of the trouble, it tool as many as 16 British Army soldiers to back up just two police officers out on patrol because there was such mistrust of the police. Would that indicate that armed forces are going to have to be in Iraq much longer in order to support regular policing?

Mr. McCAUSLAND: The description that you provided of parts of Belfast would pertain to certain part, for example, of Baghdad and other parts of the country. There are provinces that have significantly moved forward. The three provinces in the north of Iraq where the Kurds are have delivered a significant level of peace. And the moves that have happened in Amarah province in the last few weeks are very, very significant and should be applauded in terms of harder coalition and the local community have come together to deliver a peaceful environment and, in effect, reduce the number and levels of attack very significantly from al-Qaida.

LYDEN: Constable, it took three decades, over 3,000 lives and a lot of outside international negotiation to bring a political solution to the troubles. Did you get the sense from your visit this summer that it will take decades in Iraq?

Mr. McCAUSLAND: I couldn't say that it would take decades. I couldn't say it would take a day, a week, a month, two years. It's going to take time. It's going to take time for the Iraqi people to be able to take charge of the situation within the country. I mean, you got to remember that we're rebuilding a country from the foundations up. And that takes time. But one of the key cornerstones of that rebuilt country must be a democratic Iraqi police service which can attract the consent and full support of an Iraqi community, all the community and all the community that's prepared to work together for political reconciliation. The sooner those two elements happen, the sooner that we will see stability beginning to return more and more to Iraq.

LYDEN: Constable Duncan McCausland was in Washington this week as part of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq. We spoke to him from Belfast.

Constable, thank you very, very much for speaking with us today.

Mr. McCAUSLAND: Thank you, Jacki, for having me along. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.