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thedrifter
11-27-06, 08:27 AM
Fear, hardship, grief mark the life of Iraqi police

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) -- The 22-year-old police officer wraps a black scarf around his face when on patrol. He sleeps in the station and sees his new bride only a few hours a month.

He watches his colleagues get shot and blown to pieces and wonders if he will be next.

"I have to wear a mask because I'm from the city. When I do my duty the guerrillas can recognize me," said Kalid, who said having his last name appear in print would put his life in danger.

"If they find out who I am, they will kill me within the hour. I hope they don't do it in front of my wife. I hope they don't make her watch."

Almost every profession is dangerous in today's Iraq, but few more so than police officer.

U.S. troops are training and equipping the Iraqi army and local police forces across the country in hopes they will one day be able to keep the streets safe on their own, but hundreds of officers have been killed during those efforts. (Watch Iraq tense and under curfew after a day of bombings -- 2:54)

The problem is especially acute here in Anbar province, an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab region of 1.4 million people where insurgents are battling 20,000 U.S. Marines spread thinly across a desert expanse roughly the size of North Carolina.

Fallujah is in the heart of Anbar and has a history of bloody struggle against foreign armies dating back to Alexander the Great.

The city was a stronghold for insurgents until November 2004, when U.S. troops stormed it in the bloodiest urban combat of the war. Despite American efforts to maintain order, the city heated up again, with gun battles, roadside bombs and snipers killing dozens of Marines.

Insurgents who cannot get to U.S. forces often attack Iraqi policemen instead. Officers have been shot while praying in mosques, killed by grenades lobbed into their living rooms, tortured and dumped in riverbeds, and obliterated by roadside bombs that shred their pickup trucks.

In October, 18 police officers were slain in Fallujah and its outskirts. That was down from the summer months, when an average of one policeman was killed every day. (Watch funeral procession from five car bomb attacks in Sadr City -- 2:42)

"I'm a cop in Philly, but being a cop in Fallujah isn't like being a cop in Philly," said Maj. Brian Lippo, a Marine reservist from Philadelphia who heads a police transition team in the city. "These guys aren't doing accident reports or domestic violence calls. They are hunted."

Made up almost entirely of local residents, the Fallujah force has about 600 officers report for duty daily, Lippo said. Despite U.S. efforts, that number has been slow to increase because 30 percent to 40 percent of new graduates from police academies in Jordan and other places desert during their first months back in Fallujah, he said.

Those who flee so quickly have raised fears that they joined only to get a gun, uniform and police ID card that could be used in insurgent operations.

Lippo said the U.S. military believes the al Qaeda in Iraq terror group buys police pistols for as much as $700 each. That's big money for the average Iraqi officer who earns $500 a month.

Kalid, however, argues the insurgency doesn't play a big role in desertions by his fellow policemen. They are drawn to the job because there are few other ways to make a living. He said most who flee the service after a short period can't take the constant fear of being killed.

"We've lost too many officers," said Kalid, who married five months ago but considers it too dangerous to see his wife more than one or two hours at a time, twice a month.

"It's hard to imagine a future without killings," he said.
"The bravest men"

Lippo and other Marines assigned to train and protect the Fallujah police have their own command post in the police station, which is surrounded by blast walls and barbed wire and has sandbags piled high enough to block second-floor windows.

Their faces covered and bodies bundled in flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, Iraqi officers on patrol move in groups of at least three to make it tougher for kidnappers and killers to strike.

Afraid to head home, some sleep on narrow metal bunks on the station's ground floor.

"They're the bravest men I've ever seen," said Lippo, of the 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment. "To get in a soft-skinned vehicle every day and drive on roads when you know there are [roadside bombs] everywhere is amazing."

Officers spend their days directing traffic, escorting ambulances to and from the hospital and confiscating weapons which were banned in Fallujah since the U.S. offensive.

Sophisticated police work is out of the question. There is no centralized system for case files, and while officers are often called on to haul away bodies, little record is kept of who was killed and how. Homicide investigations are almost never conducted.

There is a jail on the police station's first floor, but it has just four cells. Few arrests are made because of fears they will cause revenge killings.

Maj. Aziz Faisal Hamad, the police patrol commander, said it will be years before the department is ready to handle major investigations.

"The people have to learn to trust the police. That is the first step," said Hamad, who was a member of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard for 18 years. "For now, they see us working and that is important."

Hamad said he has his family change houses every three days to ensure their safety. Bodyguards take his children to school. He said Fallujah's police force would crumble without the support of U.S. troops.

"We have coalition forces here now and so many of our officers are being killed," he said. "Imagine if coalition forces left. How many officers would die?"

Ellie