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New police force in Iraqi-Syrian border town ready for the streets

29 May 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Despite two recent suicide bombings on a new police station here, one Iraqi police officer in this Iraq-Syria border town says his men are undeterred in their duties and are ready to work on their own.

"Ahmed," a 45-year-old police captain, is one of several new police officers in this city of 50,000 who has endured two attacks on the city’s district police headquarters which has resulted in the deaths of five police officers and injured eight others.

The first attack occurred a week ago when a man walked to the police station and detonated a vest bomb, killing five policemen and wounding five others.

Several days later, the station was attacked again – this time by a vehicle bomb which detonated prematurely, killing two of the vehicle's passengers and wounding another. Three policemen were wounded in that incident.

The attacks came just one month after the opening of the police station.

Despite these attacks the Iraqi cops are undeterred in their duties, said Ahmed.

“It is a lot safer in Husaybah now,” said Ahmed, who recalled more violent times in the city before coalition forces conducted a large-scale operation to rid the city of insurgents last November.

Now, officers are conducting independent operations – regular foot and vehicle patrols through the city, often times without a large U.S. Marine presence to back them.

“I can walk the streets and not be scared for my life,” he said.

The handful of U.S. Marines assigned to work with and mentor the fledgling police force agree. They say the police reacted appropriately during the bombings, rushing to the scene to treat the wounded and secure the area.

Even off-duty police came in to assist, according to the Marines.

“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.”

Now, just days after the second bombing, the police officers continue to show up for work and are receiving cooperation from the locals every day – a sign of progress towards stability in the region, according to the transition team.

“They’re still doing a good job, just a little more alert now,” said Maj. Robert C. Marshall, officer-in-charge of the police transition team here.

The police force was stood up earlier this month after its officers graduated from a six-month officer training camp.

Ahmed was born and raised in Husaybah, a city which has been relatively quiet in recent months, until the two suicide attacks.

Ahmed recalled more violent days in the town – kidnappings, beatings, and murder.

Before becoming a police officer Ahmed spent three years as an interpreter for coalition forces, a dangerous occupation at the time, he said.

“I saw Husaybah fill with terrorists every day and no one could do anything about it because they would be killed, said Ahmed. “I couldn’t continue to work as a translator because they would kill me if they found out about my work.”

It didn’t take long for insurgents to learn of Ahmed’s occupation as a translator. They kidnapped him, and for eight days, he was handcuffed and beaten because he had helped the Americans, he said.

“They just came in and threatened everybody,” he said.

The only thing that saved his life was his family’s determination to seek retribution for his disappearance, according to Ahmed.

That is precisely the fighting spirit Ahmed claims that the people of Husaybah currently have in their new police force.

Unlike many Iraqi soldiers who often serve outside of their hometowns, the police here are all local men – more incentive for them to keep the neighborhoods crime and terrorist-free, said Ahmed.

“If I see a terrorist, I will kill him,” said Ahmed, matter of factly.

The police conduct regular security patrols alongside Marines and for the most part, work independently, according to the Marines who work alongside Iraqi Security Forces here.

“They are providing law and order in their city and are abiding by all Iraqi laws,” said Marshall.

“These guys take initiative and they are motivated despite the violence against them,” said the Denver native. “They really care about being police officers and are not in it just for the paycheck.”

Marshall noted that the police officers here worked nearly two months without seeing a paycheck. It was only until last week when they were finally paid.

The Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment – the Marine unit assigned to provide security and assist Iraqi Security Forces in the Euphrates Valley region in northwestern Al Anbar Province – have also watched the police officers evolve and begin to take the lead in security operations.

“The Iraqi police are doing their job well and they are trying to match the job that the Marines and Iraqi Army are doing of providing security,” said 2nd Lt. Chris J. Jamison, a platoon commander with Company B.

Patrolling the area and providing security is a step-by-step process, said Jamison.

“Teaching the police to do that job is tough but they are motivated and they are starting to do things they way we do,” said the 24-year-old from North Great River, N.Y. 

Jamison and his Company B Marines conducted foot patrols with the new officers for two weeks to establish a presence in the community and introduce the policemen as a new element of Iraqi Security Forces.

Jamison noted that there is an added sense of security for his Marines when patrolling with the Iraqi police because the officers know the area and the people.

“They live here. They know who doesn’t belong,” said Jamison.   

Now that Ahmed is working in his hometown after years of serving alongside Marines and soldiers far away from his family in Baghdad, he feels he finally has a job he can be proud of – keeping his city safe.

“I see my family every day now and I am working in the city where I am from,” said Ahmed.

When asked how his neighbors felt about his decision to become a policeman, Ahmed said that people look up to him and help him everyday. He said the people here want their police to enforce the law.

Furthermore, local tribal sheiks have pushed for the Iraqi police to take over responsibility of keeping the people safe, said Ahmed.

The sheiks maintain regular communication with Marine commanders and have applauded their new police force, he said.

Ahmed knows that the Marines eventual withdrawal from Iraq is dependent on the success of his police officers’ ability to maintain security in the town on their own.

But progress is steady, and the Iraqi police are ready for the responsibility of protecting their city, said Ahmed.

“We will sacrifice ourselves to keep the bad guys out,” he said.

U.S. government and military officials have stated that Iraqi Security Forces should be ready to spearhead security operations throughout Iraq by year’s end.

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