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Wounded Iraqi police chief says key to safer Iraq is securing Al Anbar province

11 Oct 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Despite being wounded during an insurgent attack earlier this month, a prominent Iraqi police chief has vowed to continue his “fight” to keep Iraq’s western Al Anbar province safe.

Col. Shabban Barzan al-Ubaidi of the Baghdadi Police Force says the fact that he survived the attack is “proof the enemy cannot take (his) life away, only God can, and God is not on the enemy’s side.”

Despite the attack, his police forces remain undeterred and Iraqis in the Al Anbar province are still willing to join Ubaidi’s police forces, he said.

Baghdadi is a town of about 30,000 people located just miles south of Haditha along the Euphrates River.

Last month, another 200 Iraqi men were recruited to join the police forces in western  Anbar and were sent to police academies in Baghdad or Jordan. 

In August, U.S. military forces recruited more than 500 Iraqis for service in police forces in western Anbar. Marines here deemed it as the “most successful recruiting drive to date” in the region.

Lt. Col. David Little, the Marine in charge of the various U.S. police transition teams in western Anbar, says Ubaidi played a crucial role in recruiting efforts by organizing police recruiting events throughout the Hadithah Triad and Baghdadi.

“Col. Shabban is a person who looks past ethnic, tribal and clan divisions,” said Little, 43, a native of Rocklin, Calif.  “He is a nationalist; he wants Iraq for Iraqis and he wants security in the Al Anbar Province.”

Currently, there are more than 2,000 police officers, who are a mixture of Sunnis and Shiites, in Baghdadi and surrounding cities, which is located in the heart of the Sunni-dominated Al Anbar Province, where Coalition and Iraqi forces have faced arguably the fiercest fighting in Iraq in recent years. 

Along with a steady flow of recruits, Iraqi police officers have received much-needed gear in recent months, to include handcuffs, uniforms, batons and police cars to fight crime, oftentimes with Coalition Forces at their side. 

Ubaidi said he is anxious to get back to Baghdadi and continue fighting insurgents with coalition forces. He was wounded after insurgents fired at his police vehicle in a neighboring village, just minutes after giving chase to insurgents who previously lobbed several mortars at a housing complex in Baghdadi Oct. 3.

One police officer was killed in the small-arms-fire ambush.  Ubaidi was shot with an unknown caliber of weapon.  Insurgents were going to set fire to his vehicle believing they had killed him, but Ubaidi said he managed to grab a machine gun and open fire on the insurgents, who fled after additional police arrived on scene and engaged the insurgents.

Ubaidi says he killed an unknown number of insurgents, and that several more were arrested by his police force.

Rumors and errant press reports quickly surfaced throughout the region that Ubaidi was killed, but Ubaidi said he squashed those rumors when two of his officers visited him at Al Asad. He instructed them to pass news that he was going to survive and continue his fight against insurgents while continuing to build and train his police force.

Ubaidi, while recuperating at the U.S. military base here, also wrote a letter to his policemen to boost their morale.  He wrote that he was “just another Iraqi” and “even if I die, keep fighting the enemy.”

“Every time I look at these wounds, I thank God for them,” said Ubaidi, through a translator.  “These wounds are an honor for (my) tribe and the Iraqi people.  I built the Iraqi police in Baghdadi with every cell in my blood.  No one is going to take it away from me.”

Ubaidi said even though there are still insurgents in the Haditha and Baghdadi areas, residents have become much more supportive of coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.

He cites the fact that children used to throw rocks at military vehicles and residents would not speak to Marines or Iraqi soldiers and police. 

Now, local children greet and shake hands with Marines, Iraqi soldiers and police, and many residents are taking oaths to fight the insurgents by volunteering to become policemen – a “180” from just a few months ago.  

However, these changes come with a large price tag.

“I am trying to save people from insurgents,” said Ubaidi.  “My wounds are an honor.  I do not regret it.”

This summer, more than a dozen police recruits were assassinated in a drive-by shooting in front of a police station in the Al Anbar province and more than 20 police officers from the Baghdadi region have been killed sporadically in the past year.

One of Ubaidi’s brothers, also a police officer, was killed in March by a vehicle-born suicide bomb in the Al Anbar province, said Ubaidi.

Ubaidi said when he took the job as police chief last December that he knew he was “playing with fire” and would one day face the enemy. 

“We took an oath to eradicate (insurgents),” said Ubaidi.  “We will not accept any reason for the enemy to attack us or civilians and police.” 

Every insurgent attack will be treated as a criminal act, he added. 

Ubaidi said he will soon be back on his feet and will continue to try to achieve his dream, which is to have a police force throughout the Al Anbar province that is “strong, thriving and victorious.”

E-mail Sgt. Seigle at: seiglemf@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.