Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraqis Welcome Local Police

Deployment of Iraqi policemen in place of American soldiers brings greater confidence that law and order can be imposed.
By Naser Kadhem

Faleh al-Asadi, 46, a high-school history teacher, was driving home when he spotted two Nissan pickups trucks with blue-and-white police markings blocking the street, allowing only one car to pass at a time.

But rather than grumbling at the slowdown, he was delighted to see local police in action.

"This is what we want from the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis," he said. "I feel safe and comfortable with the police spreading out into the streets, with fewer United States patrols and checkpoints."

The massive deployment of Iraqi police, one of the first acts carried out by the prime minister Iyad Allawi’s government after it assumed power on June 28, has won support from many Baghdadis, who lived in fear of both bombers and common criminals. Many believed that jumpy American soldiers were just as dangerous.

Throughout the capital, groups of half a dozen or more police have set up checkpoints, stopping suspicious vehicles, which they define as recent imports, vehicles with tinted windows, or any car full of young men.

The police also watch out for vehicles they have specific intelligence about.

As a result of this highly visible deployment, many residents of the capital are driving more and also staying out longer in the evenings.

Surgeon Alaa Ismail, 39, and his wife used to return home early from their medical laboratory in the east Baghdad district of al-Shaab for fear of "unsafe roads".

But since the transfer of power they have been closing their lab at 10 in the evening.

"We see patrols and check points all the way [home]. We never saw such things before the transfer of power," said Ismail.

Other people said that since the police force is now operating without US supervision, they feel more confident about providing it with information on the actions of insurgents in their neighbourhoods.

"We couldn't inform the police about any IED [improvised explosive device] planted in our neighbourhood, because we feared the Americans would arrest us," said Abd al-Sahab, 36, a vehicle technician. "Now we cooperate as much as we can."

Some days before, he said, his neighbour informed the police about an IED planted near a primary school in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.

"There is concrete cooperation from the Iraqis. We didn't sense that before," said Colonel Emad Jamil Khalil, commander of the police's emergency force in eastern Baghdad.

Still, some officers said that people should not have unduly high expectations of the police’s capacity, pointing out that while they are starting to be more active, Iraq's other security agencies - the military and particularly the intelligence services - are still in the process of rebuilding.

"All Iraqis have pinned their hopes on the police to keep security," said Captain Uday Abdul Hussein, 30. But he said, "It is impossible to keep security in a country that has no security or intelligence services."

As he put it, "There is no state without intelligence services”.

Naser Kadhem is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.