CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- Four hundred newly-trained police officers are slated to join the 1,000-man police force currently providing security for the Iraq-Syria border region of Al Qa’im in western Al Anbar.
The new police officers were recruited just three months ago and recently completed 10 weeks of police academy training in one of two academies in Jordan or Baghdad.
Just four months ago, the region of about 170,000, established a police force for the first time in three years.
With no police force in the region, the brunt of security was provided by Iraqi soldiers and Marines from the southern California-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
The new police officers claim they’re ready to start policing their neighborhoods and keeping the “bad guys” out.
“I am looking forward to wearing the uniform,” said Ahmed, a 27-year-old man from the village of Ramana, through an interpreter. “I know that together we can help keep the insurgents from coming into our towns.”
A 23-year-old named Hadi, said he has a brother serving in the Iraqi Army. Hadi said he joined the police because he wanted to serve close to his home — unlike Iraqi soldiers who can be stationed anywhere in Iraq, Iraqi police officers are “home grown,” serving near their homes.
Iraqis here remain undeterred from attacks on local police and continue to enlist at monthly recruiting drives. Just four months ago, the police station in Husaybah, a city of 50,000 was attacked twice in one week by insurgents using explosives attached to suicide vests. The attacks resulted in five police officers killed.
“The bombing made me angry because I knew one of the police officers who was killed,” said a 22-year-old from Husaybah. “I don’t care if the insurgents have bombs; we have guns.”
Two months later in Ubaydi, a town of about 10,000, another suicide bomber wearing a vest laden with explosives detonated himself at the local hospital leaving two Iraqi soldiers dead.
Despite the attacks, the Iraqis continue to enlist. During a three-day Iraqi police recruiting drive last month, 500 Iraqis from the Euphrates River valley signed up. In Fallujah, once an insurgent-infested stronghold, recruiting drives netted 176 applicants last month.
The police transition team here, a group of Coalition Forces and retired U.S. police officers in charge of mentoring and training the new police force to become self-sustaining, say the new batch of police officers will add a much needed boost to existing security forces.
“The Iraqi police here are already doing a good job, now they’ll be able to put more officers in all of the smaller villages throughout the Al Qa’im region,” said Arthur L. Dehlinger, a 14-year police veteran from Big Spring, Texas.
Dehlinger is one of several retired U.S. police officers responsible for building-up the Iraqi police in the Al Qa’im region.
The new police officers will work in their hometown communities and will provide security and stability alongside Marines and Iraqi soldiers. While several police stations dot the region alongside the Euphrates River, more police stations are being built in villages where police have been non-existent over the last three years.
As Iraqi Security Forces who currently maintain law and order in the villages and cities here begin taking over their own areas of operation, the Marines will take a more back-seat role in providing security to the region.
The region’s security has improved significantly in less than a year, according to local tribal sheikhs and city leaders who meet frequently with the Marines.
“Today the city of Karabilah is a better and safer place thanks to the Marines and the work they have done with the Iraqi police and army,” said Abu Munder, the 50-year-old mayor of Karabilah – through an interpreter.
Recently, Iraqi police here took a lead role in providing security for two public soccer games.
“When it came time to provide security for the soccer games, we (Marines) let the police run the show and we were simply advisors,” said 1st Lt. Daniel F. Davis, the executive officer for Company C, who operate out of Karabilah.
Karabilah, a city of 30,000, is one of dozens of cities and towns along the Euphrates River just east of the Iraqi-Syrian border in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have spent nearly three years fighting insurgents, and more recently, building Iraqi Security Forces to take that mission over.
The boost in manpower is just one example of how Iraqi police are bolstering security in the region. The police chief has established new security measures with the additional police to deny the insurgents use of the region’s major highway, which extends from the Syrian border into Baghdad. The security measures will also restrict the insurgents’ ability to plant the improvised explosive devices on the widely-used road.
One of the biggest threats for Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces in this region are improvised explosive devices, according to the Marines here. The roadside bombs have been responsible for numerous deaths.
Despite the dangers of IEDs, Iraqis here continue to enlist to become police officers and soldiers. Many are undeterred by the threat of insurgents who move into the villages dotting the Euphrates River hoping to make the area a base of operations.
“Now that I am a police officer, my brothers want to become officers too,” said Ahmed. “It will be the job of the Iraqi police and soldiers to take care of the people here, not the Marines.”
Email Cpl. Rosas at email@example.com