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Iraqis see police force restored after three-year hiatus

23 May 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

After three years without a police presence in this western Iraqi town of approximately 10,000, the community is beginning to see a fully-restored police force with the introduction of two new police stations.

With a new force of fully-trained police officers, many of whom are seasoned veterans from the previous police force, Iraqis here hope the added security forces will curb insurgent activity in the area, according to tribal sheikhs.

The Police Transition Team here, a team of coalition service members responsible for training and mentoring Iraqi police officers, has worked in recent months to prepare these law enforcement officials  for their duties of providing law and order here.

Despite delays in the arrival of necessary police equipment, such as vehicles, the new police stations are providing an additional asset for Iraqi security forces by collecting tips and information from citizens and responding to criminal activity to combat insurgent operations in the region, according to the transition team.

“The police officers are eager to get out there in the towns and establish a presence,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Torres, an intelligence chief with a transition team serving in western Iraq. “They are very organized, motivated, and they already have the respect from the community.”

That is because unlike Iraqi soldiers who often serve away from their hometowns, the police officers here are from the area and are serving where they live, according to Maj. Robert C. Marshall, the officer-in-charge of the region’s transition team.

“These guys all live within walking distance of the police station where they serve,” said Marshall, 37, from Denver, Colo. “These officers know who doesn’t belong in the neighborhoods and they are in it to keep their community safe.”

Maintaining safety in the area is the top priority for the Iraqi police here who are based at a police station in the heart of Husaybah, a town on the Iraq-Syria border. The police station recently came under attack from a suicide bomber, killing five Iraqi officers.

Immediately following the tragedy the transition team saw an increase in the cops’ vigilance.

“They got out into the street pretty quick and they were doing everything they needed to do to take care of their people,” said Staff Sgt. David J. Perry, the team’s operations chief. “They were immediately setting up roadblocks and checking people out.”

The 42-year-old Santa Cruz, Calif., native said the search after the blast netted the cops’ two arrests.

When attacks on the Iraqi police like this happen, the role of the transition team does not change as they continue to advise and mentor the Iraqi officers in carrying out their duties.

“The Iraqis responded well and they were pretty amazing,” said Marshall. “All of the officers, including those off duty came out to see how they could help.”

As the events after the attack unfolded, Marshall saw the Iraqi cops handle the crime scene in much the same fashion as cops back home would handle it from collecting statements from witnesses to photographing the crime scene.

“They did as much as they could with as little as they had,” said Marshall who also pointed out the fact that many of the officers have been devoid of a salary for several weeks now.

“Some of these guys haven’t been paid in a while yet they’re still out there protecting their people,” added Marshall.

The Iraqi police have been adding to the fight against the insurgency by conducting foot patrols alongside Marines, said Torres.

The Marines of Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment conduct daily security patrols through the streets and work with the new police officers on the tactics they’ll need to eventually maintain law and order on their own.

Although the patrols are more for training purposes, the police force here is already interacting with the community and responding to calls made by citizens regarding criminal activity, said Torres.

“People honk their horns and wave when they see the police now,” said Torres, 34, from Fredericksburg, Va. “This is a good sign of how the people are responding to their new police.”

The added foot patrols puts the police in the lead of local security operations, and takes the burden off Iraqi soldiers and Marines who have provided the bulk of security thus far.

Last week, local police officers worked together with Iraqi soldiers to provide security when detainees from Abu Ghraib prison were released in the town.

The ex-prisoners were released from the prison at Abu Ghraib into their hometown of Husaybah after they were cleared of charges by Iraqi Government officials.

The police chief here had a face-to-face meeting with each of the former insurgents and warned them that there was now a strong Iraqi police presence and that the people would no longer cooperate with terrorists.

“The people here are not afraid anymore,” said the police chief. “We have Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police now. We know your families and your sheikhs. We know where to find you.”

The group of about 50 men were photographed and released with a firm understanding of the new law enforcement in their town. The police chief let them know that he had already lost six family members in the fight against insurgents and he was willing to do whatever it took to clean up his city

“They can either cooperate and live peacefully or they can face their new police chief,” said Torres “They have a choice now,” said the police chief. “This is their opportunity to clean up.”

With their security forces in place, Iraqis here can begin to move forward with further advancements, such as starting construction projects on much-needed infrastructure improvements such as health clinics and micro-loan centers to improve the economy.

A micro-loan center allows people to apply for loans to jump start a small business.

As long as communication is strong and there is cooperation between the people and the security forces, construction projects can begin, said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer for the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Marine battalion. 

Cities like Fallujah and Baghdad have seen consistent, violent attacks against Iraqi police, and Iraqi recruiting drives in those cities to bolster numbers in the Iraqi Army and local police forces seem to have suffered some due to the attacks.

But here, locals are not deterred by the attack against the Husaybah Police Station, evidenced by a steady increase in recruitment numbers, according to Torres.

The team has held several recruiting drives in the region with limited success but after the new police station was established, the Marines say they saw a sharp increase in recruitment numbers.

At a recruiting drive held several weeks ago, Iraqi police recruiters accepted a mere eight recruits out of 50 applicants.

One month later, and after the establishment of the police force, 50 were accepted in a similar recruiting drive.

Torres credits the sudden boost in numbers to the people’s reaction to their new police force.

But the Iraqi police here have more work to do before they are deemed fully capable of handling security in the town on their own. The Marines say the police will train with the Iraqi Army unit stationed here to learn tactics and procedures they’ll need to keep the peace.

There is a good level of cooperation between the soldiers and the police in this area, said Marshall.

The Iraqi officers will receive machine gun training from the Iraqi soldiers in the next several weeks.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil