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Ameriyah's Iraqi Police setting the pace for independent security operations

22 Sep 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Sgt. Amir bounced around his sparsely decorated Iraqi Police station headquarters here.  He’s a busy man and today was even busier.  His station was attacked by mortars again this morning.  His police withstood the attack without a Marine or soldier in sight.

Amir’s station might just be the example of the hope for Iraq.  He’s got a strong police station, loyal Iraqi Police who patrol the village’s streets daily.  They have their difficulties.  They get attacked, but they don’t run. 

They are the thin blue line keeping insurgents out of their city.

“My guys are prepared for everything,” Amir said through a translator.  “They are ready to do their job.”

Just hours after the morning mortar attack, there was no trace of trouble at the station.  Iraqi police walked casually in the building, toting their AK-47 assault rifles.  They sipped chai tea and chatted with U.S. Army soldiers from the Police Transition Team, who arrived on a scheduled visit after the attack. 

Marines moved forces out of the area several months ago.  Units regularly perform operations in Ameriyah and nearby Ferris, but the day-to-day security responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the police.  They aren’t just holding the line.  They’re keeping insurgents on the run.

“In the beginning, people thought the U.S. military came here to take advantage of them,” Amir explained.  “Now, they know they’ve come to help.  The insurgents don’t want to help.  They want to destroy and kill everything in the area.”

The police station here is a bit of an exception.  Other police stations in the area still require constant support, with Police Transition Teams living with police at their stations.  Ameriyah is different.  Soldiers with the PTT stop in periodically to resupply, perform spot inspections and offer advice.  For days and even weeks at that time, though, police here do the job on their own.

“We went from not having a station here to a fully operating station without Coalition help,” explained Army 2nd Lt. Jill M. Glassenapp, a 23-year-old from Mauston, Wis., who heads up the PTT mission here.  “They are completely self-reliant.  Ammunition and weapons are the only things they really need for support.”

Glassenapp said that self-reliance started from beginning when Regimental Combat Team 5 leaders sought to establish a police presence in the small city south of Fallujah.  Ameriyah Police worked out of the police station in nearby Ferris, but when the call went out for a new station, Amir and the Iraqi police captain stepped up.

“They found the building and took care of everything themselves,” Glassenapp said.  “They had everything packed ready to move in the next day.”

Police brought chairs, couches, desks and even beds from their homes to furnish their new station.  They hand-painted signs in Arabic for each office space.  They built a reinforced locked door for their armory. 

Even more telling is the fact their police are on duty.  They’ve been attacked by improvised explosive devices, mortars and small arms.  The day the soldiers visited a visibly battered police truck sat destroyed outside the police station.  An improvised explosive device crushed the side of the truck, shattered windows and tore holes through the thin sheet metal. 

Still, Iraqi Police show up.  They strap their armored vests over their bodies and climb into their pickup trucks.  Every day, they serve their community.

The million-dollar question is why?

“The people here support us,” Amir explained.  “We take them to hospitals in our vehicles.  We give them all the support they need.”

Amir and his police have made inroads with the community.  Local sheiks and tribal leaders throw their support behind the police.  They offer information about insurgents’ activities. 

“Every time we get attacked and we fight, the locals trust us more,” Amir said.

The police here didn’t get to this point overnight and there’s still room to grow.  More and more, though, Iraqis are stepping to the front here with Coalition presence stepping further back.

“At first, they wanted us here all the time,” Glassenapp explained.  “But there’s really two people who have made this happen on their own and that’s the captain and the sergeant.  If it wasn’t for them, this station wouldn’t be running so well.”

Amir and his captain are a bit of a force of nature in this police station.  The captain is a younger man, well-groomed and wears a neatly pressed uniform with the epaulettes of an Iraqi police captain.  He has a piercing stare and counts loyalty and trust among his most admired aspects of service.

Amir, his sergeant, is an older man.  He’s the voice of experience, an experienced veteran.

Amir served in the former Iraqi Republican Guard.  He fought in the Iran-Iraq War and watched U.S. forces cut a swath into Iraq during Operation Desert Storm 15 years ago.  The gray shows through in his hair and moustache, and the lines in his face run deep.  His hands are rough and leathered from years of labor.

They both chain-smoke cigarettes as they herd along their police force, from aging bald men missing several teeth to young men in their early 20s.  They are all local men, dedicated to the safety of their families and city.  One Iraqi policeman boasted of 10 children and another, just 23-years-old, said his wife was expecting to give birth to twins any day.

“My guys know everybody,” Amir said.  “They patrol the areas inside the city.  They conduct vehicle checkpoints outside the city.  They know everybody in the city and they search everybody not from the area.”

“They’re successful here because of the pride they have in their city,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jason K. Garrison, a 27-year-old from Newport, N.Y.  “They won’t let their families live in fear.  They don’t want to see their kids and family live that way.”

Things aren’t perfect here, though.  There are still attacks, mostly mortars from areas outside the city.  Amir’s police have a good idea of those who are responsible, but they are outside of his area of responsibility.  He wants bigger weapons than the AK-47s and PKC machine guns police use.  His police brought in brass casings from .50-caliber and 30 mm machine guns they claimed are being fired against them.  The brass casings towered over the 7.62 mm bullet from their AK-47 they stood next to it to illustrate to Glassenapp their need for bigger weapons. 

They also still require fuel from Coalition Forces and ammunition.  Most of all, they need more forces, Amir said.  They’re not necessarily asking for more police.  Despite rumored differences between Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army, Amir said he needs Iraqi soldiers living in his city.

“We need the Iraqi Army,” Amir said.

That’s a bold statement in Iraq, where division between Sunni and Shiite are being drawn more boldly than ever.  Police here in Al Anbar are Sunni while the Iraqi Army is still largely Shiite.  Amir said fighting the insurgency isn’t a Sunni or Shiite issue, but one of the larger Iraqi family.

“Yes, sometimes we don’t like the Iraqi Army, but we’ll work together,” Amir said.  “We’ll work together like brothers for our area.  Sometimes brothers don’t like each other, but when there’s troubles, they work together.”

That’s the model of hope for security in this region and throughout Iraq.  Iraqi Police working alongside Iraqi soldiers for local security.  The alternative, Amir said, means giving in to insurgents who have no hope for Iraq.

They’ve already demonstrated their intentions, he said.

“The insurgents killed the head of the hospital,” Amir said.

This police station is the beacon of hope for this small portion of Iraq, Garrison said.  Strong leaders who look out for their police and stand up against intimidation are those who will lead Iraqis past the insurgency. 

“It’s very hard to find leadership like you find in these guys,” Garrison said.  “But if I came back here in another year I think this station will still be running with some Coalition support.”

“They keep the insurgents at bay,” Glassenapp said.  “There’s a point in the fight, though, where it becomes overwhelming and that’s when Coalition Forces step in.

“That’s the intent,” she added.  “These IPs are on the front line and we’re here to catch them.”