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

Police Hiring Boom in Sulaimaniyah

Villagers and workers are leaving low-paying jobs to join the police.
By Frman Abdulrahman
In the early morning, Ahmad Salih, a 37-year-old civil servant, waits in a long queue to get bread at the only bakery left in his alley. Before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime there were several bakers working in his neighbourhood, but most have now left to join the police force.

Since April 2003, the force in Sulaimaniyah province has more than tripled, rising from about 7,000 members to some 20,000 at the end of 2005.

"We want to protect the area's security properly and provide a safe environment for the people," said General Jamal Ahmed, head of the Kurdistan regional police force in Sulaimaniyah.

"Police forces have preserved the prestige of government and maintained stability in the area. The more forces we have, the more influence we have."

As the government raised salaries and expanded the force in Iraq's safest province, men left their old jobs in agriculture and other struggling sectors to work as policemen.

New recruits now make 170 US dollars a month – much more than the 30-dollar monthly wage prior to 2003. Last year, the starting salary was 220 dollars a month, but the Sulaimaniyah government decided to cut the level because the job is less risky than in other parts of Iraq. However, the pay still compares well with that of civil servants, some of whose monthly salary is less than 100 dollars. And a good number of officers only have to work 15 days out of every month.

The surge in recruitment has employed thousands who would otherwise have few opportunities, especially since police only need to have completed a primary school education.

Sulaimaniyah has been spared much of the violence seen in the rest of Iraq, and being a policeman here is significantly less risky than in other regions where security forces are prime targets for the insurgents.

But the recruitment spree has cut into the labour force in other sectors. Agricultural has suffered the most, as significant numbers of farmers have quit their jobs to become officers. As villagers move their families into urban areas to join the force, Sulaimaniyah's tight housing market has come under additional pressure.

"Agriculture in the villages cannot provide for people, so they have no choice but to seek alternatives," said Ibrahim Khdir, head of the agriculture ministry's planning directorate.

Dilshad Ali, 27, from the Shrbazher area north of Sulaimaniyah, stopped working with his father on the family vineyard a year ago when he signed up for the city force.

"I have a decent salary and my job is not hard as my previous one," he said.

Ali said that of the 35 families in his village, only eight remain there.

Hamalaw Nasih, a 35-year-old builder, used to have six construction workers on his team, but four have gone off to join the police.

"They were getting low wages for a lot of work," he explained, adding that nowadays, his former labourers own their own cars.

Nasih now uses Arab workers who come from central and southern Iraq to seek employment in the northern Kurdish areas because of security concerns in their own regions.

Dr Mohammad Rauf, economics professor at the Sulaimaniyah university, accepts that the government has reduced unemployment by hiring police officers, and notes that Kurdistan’s labour market is shifting from agriculture to service industries. But he cautions that "the government should pay equal attention to all economic sectors".

Dilshad Yousif, a 24-year-old police officer, says the job offers a decent standard of living, but argues that the wage is well-deserved because of the potential risks the work entails.

"It's true there is no danger, but if anything does happen we will be the first victims," he said.

Frman Abdulrahman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

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