AN NAJAF, Iraq -- Coalition forces are teaming with local police to train 400 special police officers to help safeguard An Najaf's holy shrine area.
Members of the newly formed Shrine Police currently are being trained as part of a special police academy sponsored by 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. After three weeks of hands-on instruction, the group will become the additional eyes and ears for An Najaf's fledgling police force. The academy's first graduating class of 110 Shrine police officers began patrolling the sacred area and surrounding neighborhoods Sept. 13.
The introduction of the exclusive unit comes out a time when the Shiite city is recovering from last month's car bomb at the Imam Ali mosque in the city's shrine district Aug. 29. The blast killed more than 100 Iraqis, including cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakem.
Coalition members are confident that the extra law enforcement arm will quickly strengthen the peace in an area renown to Islamic worshippers.
"The Shrine Police was created to work closely with local religious authorities," said Army Maj. Daniel F. Chachakis, a member of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Green Bay, Wis. and head of the battalion's governate support team in An Najaf. "They have a thorough understanding and sensitivity to the shrine area."
Robert Ford, regional coordinator for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which established the Shrine Police, said the special police unit would ultimately fall under Iraq's Ministry of Religious Affairs. Ford said the idea of protecting An Najaf's shrine district with a special police unit emerged even before the attack.
Because of the tragedy, the CPA accelerated its plan for establishing the force, Ford said.
Sergeant 1st Class Darren Gaddy, an operations sergeant for the 988th Military Police Company, based at Fort Benning, Ga., helped create the course curriculum for the Shrine Police course. The 988th also runs the regular police academy, which so far has turned out 836 policemen.
The difference from the regular police school, he said, is that local Iraqis teach the bulk of Shrine Police coursework, which includes building security, weapons training, vehicle searches and emergency response procedures.
Almost all of the instructors are either local police officers or former Iraqi soldiers, Gaddy said.
"A lot of them have experience as soldiers and they are a little more disciplined, so we got the best of the group," said Gabby, a native of Little Rock, Ark.
Gaddy said the Iraqi instructors appear determined to show their coalition counterparts that, they too can turn out professional and dedicated law enforcement officers. Their primary duty is to guard against terrorist threats, whether it's suspicious packages, vehicles or people.
Lt. Abbas Fadhil Abed, a local police officer and chief instructor of the Shrine Police course, said those class volunteers are determined to perform well, mostly out of personal concern that their community returns to normal.
"Their feelings will help them do the job better," Abed said.