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[casi] U.S.-Trained Police Are Accused of Being Collaborators and Spies

Iraq's Security Weakened by Fear

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post
    Sunday 14 September 2003

  U.S.-Trained Police Are Accused of Being Collaborators and Spies
    KHALDIYA, Iraq, Sept. 13 -- The convoy of U.S. military engineers had
just entered this rough-and-tumble town when disaster struck. They had a
flat tire, stopping the convoy along a ribbon of desert asphalt some Iraqis
have nicknamed "the highway of death."

    Soon after, masked guerrillas fired two rocket-propelled grenades.
Machine guns crackled across the late afternoon sky. When it ended an hour
later, witnesses said, homes were gouged with large holes, two U.S. vehicles
were burning, and the soldiers had beat a retreat.

    On the sidelines throughout the clash Thursday were Khaldiya's police,
who are supposed to be the allies of the U.S.-led occupation in restoring
order to Iraq. Not only was it not their fight, several said this week, but
the guerrillas fighting U.S. soldiers had their blessing.

    "In my heart, deep inside, we are with them against the occupation,"
said Lt. Ahmed Khalaf Hamed, an officer with the 100-man force trained,
equipped and financed by U.S. authorities. "This is my country, and I
encourage them."

    From President Bush to U.S. soldiers in the field, the United States is
putting a growing emphasis on transferring the purview of security and
stability to tens of thousands of Iraqis now under arms. The bulk of them --
more than 30,000 -- are police. The restive town of Khaldiya offers a small
but significant example of the challenges this policy faces in a country
shaken by car bombings and rampant lawlessness and filled with anxiety about
the future.

    While this town of 15,000 residents may not be typical of all Iraq, it
reflects some of the fissures and strains that are undermining security
across the country. A key to that tension is the relationship between U.S.
forces and police, shaken badly on Friday in Fallujah, when American
soldiers mistakenly killed 10 Iraqi security officers who were chasing
suspected criminals along a desert road.

    By their own account, Khaldiya's finest are a besieged and embittered
force -- uneasy about their American patrons, despised by their community
and demoralized about their work. At least three have quit, and others
contend the safest place for them is at home. They have become targets of
tribal vendettas and blood feuds for arresting or wounding suspects, and in
an hour-long standoff outside their police station this week, they had to
face down an angry and better-armed mob.

    Most troublesome, some said, are accusations of serving as America's
lackeys and spies, charges that were once whispered and now declared loudly
in this town that hugs the Euphrates River. The officers contended that
residents have it all wrong.

    When asked whether the resistance would succeed in the Sunni Muslim
city, part of an arc of territory where former president Saddam Hussein's
government drew most of its support, Thaer Abdullah Saleh was blunt. "God
willing," the 27-year-old officer said.

    The other officers in the room hesitated, then nodded their heads in
agreement. "It's our right," said Dhiaa Din Rajoub, a 38-year-old colleague
sitting on a tattered mattress. "This is our country, this is an occupation,
and we don't accept it."

    For six weeks, this farming city on a sun-baked plain 45 miles west of
Baghdad has emerged as one of the rare locales in Iraq where attacks on U.S.
forces and the support the attackers appear to enjoy resemble a guerrilla
war in the fullest sense of the term.

    On Aug. 4, after U.S. forces in the city came under fire, crowds
attacked the mayor's office, where they believed U.S. troops were meeting
informers behind closed doors. In the ensuing chaos after the Americans
withdrew, a throng threw rocks at the police chief's pickup, then burned it.
Others threw grenades into the newly painted and furnished mayor's office
before ransacking it. They tore doors and windows from their frames, made
off with furniture, carpets and floor tiles, and hauled away a sink.

    Since then, residents say, U.S. forces have rarely ventured into the
city, except to travel the road that traverses a turbulent 30-mile stretch
from Fallujah, 32 miles west of Baghdad, to Ramadi. Khudheir Mikhlif Ali,
who replaced the former police chief, meets his U.S. counterparts at the
base outside town, police said. For their three-day training, police go
there rather than have American soldiers come to them.

    "Everybody's upset at the Americans here," said Capt. Khalil Daham, a
gaunt and weary 31-year-old officer, with 12 years on the job. He was jumpy
on this day. When a car blows a tire on the street outside, he said,
residents think the police station has come under attack from angry
residents. Outside his window sits the charred frame of the police chief's
pickup, propped on its axle on a pile of sand. If he had the money, he
declared, he would quit.

    "We're sitting here," Daham said, pointing to the window behind him,
"and I expect someone to shoot us any minute."

    "It's chaos," added Rajoub.

    Their complaints are similar to those heard from police across Iraq.
They now have uniforms, but they still lack communications gear. For a force
of 100, they said, they have three cars and two motorcycles. Their station
is a shell of the intimidating, even terrifying, post it was in Hussein's
days. Looted soon after the fall of his government in April, the office
lacks many of its windows and doors and a borrowed light bulb illuminates
the hallway. Wires ripped from the wall left scars next to a slogan in
Arabic that reads, "Police in the service of the people." A lone telephone
sits at the entrance on a tattered iron cot. "It doesn't work," said Mahmoud
Ismail, a 35-year-old perched on the bed with an AK-47 assault rifle at his

    The isolation of the police in Khaldiya is intense, given the hostility
toward U.S. forces and anger at the very idea of occupation in a community
that remains fiercely conservative and bound by tribal traditions.

    In interviews today, several residents asserted that the police should
be fighting with the guerrillas and against the Americans. A U.S. military
spokesman in neighboring Ramadi, Capt. Michael Calvert, contended that the
police should arrest guerrillas or at least notify U.S. forces about their
activities, as a first step toward assuming complete control for security.

    "We are scapegoats here," Rajoub said. "How do we satisfy the tribes?
How do we satisfy the Americans?" He shook his head. "We're sitting here
between two fires," he said.

    Rajoub and others said they have heard insults from residents dozens of
times in the streets, when they're willing to go outside. They've been
called collaborators, lackeys and spies. While not accused of corruption as
the police are in Baghdad, the police here have their credibility
questioned, and even worse, they are accused of betraying their countrymen
and fellow Muslims.

    "The people tell us we're selling our country for dollars," Saleh said.
"Even our families call us collaborators."

    In the aftermath of Thursday's attack against the U.S. troops, crowds in
the streets celebrated, shooting AK-47 assault rifles into the air,
witnesses said. To some, it was a victory of sorts. No Iraqis were killed,
and the Americans left behind the burning wrecks of two trucks when they
withdrew. Youths chanted, "The Army of Muhammad will return" and "I swear on
the Koran the Americans must leave."

    The next day, youths blocked the road with parts of charred trucks. They
stopped vehicles, forcing drivers to kiss an Iraqi flag. Two carried iron
bars, and one had blackened his face with ash from the trucks.

    At a nearby barber shop, men warned that police should not do anything
to stop them. On the window was a leaflet bearing the portrait of a bearded
Adnan Fahdawi, who it said was a "martyr," killed in an attack on the
Americans on July 15.

    "If the policemen work with the Americans, we consider them enemies,"
said Hakim Talib, 24, a barber. His customer, 27-year-old Mehdi Saleh,
interrupted him. "We would attack them just as we attack the Americans," he

    Grim and resigned, the police officers said they have taken the message
to heart.

    "When there's a bombing, an attack or a shooting, we do nothing," Daham
said. "We just watch."

    Some contended they tacitly supported the guerrillas. Like the fighters,
they reject the occupation, and some expressed nostalgia for Hussein's rule,
when the police were respected and often feared, when residents offered them
rides and no one dared stare too long at them.

    Other officers said if they try to arrest someone with weapons, the
suspect will frequently contend the arms are for use against the Americans.
They call themselves mujaheddin, a religiously resonant term for a fighter
that police say they cannot contest.

    "They claim they are fighting the Americans. If I capture him, he says
you're a spy, you're working for the Americans," Saleh said. "The next
morning you wouldn't find any of us. We'll all be slaughtered."

    "We're afraid of them," he added. "I swear to God, we're afraid of

    On Monday night, after police seized two Eastern European-made trucks
that were unlicensed, about 12 people showed up at the police station in a
pickup, a sedan and an orange-and-white taxi. The men had red-and-white
kaffiyehs wrapped around their faces and carried rocket-propelled grenades
and heavy machine guns, police said. They demanded the trucks back.

    "They told us to leave or we'll shoot you," recalled Ammar Ibrahim
Hammadi, a 22-year-old officer who stood with the other police on the roof
that night. "We said, 'We're not leaving. Either we'll kill you or you'll
kill us.' "

    The masked men left, returned again a half-hour later, then left for
good, he said.

    "They probably would have won," Hammadi said. "They have RPGs, and we ha
ve Kalashnikovs, and we don't even know if they'll work." He lifted his
rifle, a gesture at once flippant and discouraged. "This is nothing," he

    U.S. officials have acknowledged what they call setbacks in Khaldiya and
have noted an increase in attacks against U.S. forces in the area. Calvert,
the U.S. military spokesman, said the changes in the police force would come
over the long term and that the institution itself still suffers from being
on one of the lowest rungs of Hussein's chain of security services, where
internal intelligence and informers enforced the suffocating fear that
translated into order.

    "We're not going to see an enormous change overnight. It's a building
process, like a lot of things in this country," Calvert said. But, he added,
"we're seeing that they're starting to act more like what we consider police

    The lack of respect is what police officers say bedevils their work.

    On Friday, Mohammed Thamer came into Daham's office. An owner of an ice
cream store, he wanted to file a complaint over damage to his house in
Thursday's clash. His windows were broken, and bullet holes zigzagged across
his kitchen wall.

    "I have no authority," Daham said, shaking his head. "What do you want
from me?"

    Compensation from the Americans, the 32-year-old Thamer answered. Daham
told him to come back the next day.

    "What can I tell them?" Daham said after he left. "I have nothing to
say. All they can do is ask for God's help."

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