Iraqi Cops Feel Defanged by U.S. Rules
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Lt. Haitham Saed, whose soft green eyes match his civilian shirt, doesn’t have the look of a gritty cop in Baghdad’s most crime-ridden neighborhood.
That’s what he is _ or was, until U.S. Army military police ordered him to stop carrying his Kalashnikov assault rifle. He’s also supposed to give up pistol-whipping, beatings and bribe-taking, and the Americans banned firing warning shots over the heads of fleeing criminals.
Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, criminals in Bettaween, a district near Tahrir Square, have been reveling in a carnival of crime, and police officers grump that it’s the fault of the new approach.
``The Americans are too soft,″ said Saed, 28, giving a tour of the looted and burned Saadun police station, as infamous to Baghdadis as Fort Apache is to New Yorkers. ``The MPs know so little about the criminals in the area. If they’d follow our advice, the neighborhood would be safe in a month.″
Stolen cars are on sale at one square in Bettaween, a former Jewish neighborhood where fine old homes with carved wooden balconies have gone to seed. Prostitutes and hashish are available nearby. The garbage-filled main street is thronged with men selling smuggled liquor, and a drug-addled man blocks traffic until he is paid to move.
Under Saddam, police used rough tactics to extract confessions and deter crime. Hard cases were tortured or killed by agents of the Mukhabarat, the defunct secret police.
Although no crime statistics are available, officers say they’re being straitjacketed now. They’re not allowed to go on the streets with their newly reacquired AK-47s, so they don’t patrol.
``We’re nothing but mummies in here. We can’t move. We just watch,″ said Lt. Qusai Fadhil, 31, the shift commander.
For now, the officers at the Saadun station also lack cars, pistols, uniforms, even furniture.
Fadhil said the defanging of his unit is only too apparent to the criminals of Bettaween.
``There is no force on the street that people respect, or are afraid of,″ he said. ``They don’t pay any attention to us.″
U.S. officials counter the complaints with a simple message: Respect for Baghdad’s 8,800 police officers will flow from integrity, not brutality.
``Make the people respect you because you’re doing the right thing. You’re serving them,″ retired U.S. Army Col. Jim Steele told some 50 police station commanders last week.
The Baghdad police also got a pep talk from Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who’s now the top law enforcement adviser to the U.S.-led occupation force.
``I know how dangerous this job is,″ Kerik told the officers. ``I know how dedicated you have to be to do this work.″
Iraq’s U.S.-led administration is scrambling to deflect criticism over the crime wave in which hundreds of government offices and other buildings were looted and burned after Saddam’s ouster. U.S. officials say the disorder was an unfortunate byproduct of exultant feelings that boil over when a brutal dictatorship is overthrown.
``The police department isn’t an apparatus for the regime anymore, it’s a service for the citizens,″ said Maj. Gillian Boice, an Army MP. ``We’re trying to teach them that pistol-whipping people isn’t acceptable law enforcement.″
In an effort to recruit and train a Baghdad force of about 18,000 officers, the U.S. Department of Justice brought in experts who helped build police forces in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, hiring them through security contractor Dyncorp of Reston, Va., and San Diego’s Science Applications International Corp.
Currently, 30,000 U.S. soldiers _ including 3,800 MPs _ handle most of the law enforcement in this sprawling city of 5 million people.
In a month or so, Boice said, officers at the Saadun station will have new blue uniforms, sidearms, patrol cars, badges and office furniture.
Fadhil, who sits at a desk he brought from home inside an office with shattered windows, said he’ll be happy to get those things. But he and his men crave guidelines that will let them carry guns, so they can do their jobs.
Police Sgt. Mohammed Hadi, 30, said he was fetching dinner recently when a beer-swilling man in a Mercedes brandished a grenade and yelled, ``Get out of here.″
``They call us names,″ Hadi said. ``They insulted my wife, my sister and my mother. This is bad for an Iraqi.″