WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2007 - The Iraqi government's automated biometrics identification system -- used to screen civilian workers, police and soldiers, as well as to catch criminals -- is a "tremendous success," a U.S. military officer said in Baghdad today.
Army Lt. Col. John W. Velliquette Jr., who runs the fingerprint and retina scanning center located at the International Zone in Baghdad, explained the system to online reporters and "bloggers" during a conference call today.
Biometrics is defined as measurable physical or behavioral characteristics that can be used to identify people. More than 350,000 sets of fingerprints, photos and retina scans are now deposited in the system's database, said Velliquette, a reservist and Seattle police officer who is assigned to the Coalition Police Assistance Training Team.
"We increase the database by 4,000 to 5,000 each week," Velliquette said.
A team of seven U.S. contractors now mentors 24 Iraqi government employees who operate the U.S.-provided system, Velliquette explained. Officials expect the Iraqis to assume full operation by next summer, he added.
The system is a boon for security purposes, especially in Baghdad's International Zone, where U.S. and Iraqi military and diplomatic headquarters are located, Velliquette said. Iraqis who work in the zone are biometrically screened for access, he said.
The automated identification system is tied back to the Defense Department's Biometric Fusion Center, in Clarksburg, W.Va., Velliquette said.
The identification system also is used to identify previous criminals and people suspected of recent crimes, he said.
Iraq is awash in guns, and the identification system helps ensure that only authorized individuals carry firearms, Villiquette explained. Iraqi citizens may own and keep firearms at home, but they aren't allowed to carry them in public, he said.
Official identification cards carried by the Iraqi police demonstrate they've been vetted through the biometric identification program, Villiquette said. Iraqi police who are found not to possess a proper biometrics identification card are relieved of their weapons, he said.
"The Iraqi people need to have confidence in their police," Velliquette pointed out.
Insurgents and other criminals have been known to try to infiltrate into the ranks of the police and military, he said. The biometrics data base "helps weed those people out of the system," Velliquette said.