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US Trains Iraqi Police Amid Postwar Violence - 2003-07-07

Since American military forces toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in early April, the city of Baghdad has been plagued by random lootings and rising crime. Many Iraqis criticize coalition troops for not doing enough to establish security in the capital.

An Iraqi construction worker shovels up mounds of debris littering the corridor of what used to be an adult and juvenile detention center in downtown Baghdad.

U.S. Military Police Sergeant-Major Charles Guyette explains that the center is one of several dozen police stations and detention facilities in the city destroyed by looters shortly after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces.

"Everything was looted," he said. "Windows were broken, electrical fixtures were taken out. If there were generators or wiring to the main sources, they were taken out. And virtually every building had a room or two with burned files in them. So, you can speculate whether that was looters or someone cleaning house before they left."

Amid general insecurity still plaguing many parts of the city and rising complaints from Iraqi citizens that not enough is being done to safeguard them, the U.S.-led administration in recent weeks has released millions of dollars in emergency funds to rebuild Iraq's law enforcement and legal systems, literally from the ground up.

Work is already well under way in many police stations and jails around Baghdad to repair structural damages. Hundreds of Iraqi workers, some working with the American military police and some working with private U.S. companies, have also been hired to renovate and reinforce existing jail cells to house the growing number of people being apprehended every day.

A U.S. military policeman, Staff Sergeant Jonathan Williams, says the types of crimes being committed are typical of those found in large cities around the world.

"Kidnappings, assaults, murders, that type of stuff is what we are tracking," he explained. "Our biggest one is kidnapping. We have had a couple over the last couple of days."

But building jails and repairing police stations is the easy part of trying to restore law and order in Iraq.

The country does not yet have a legal justice system in place that can try suspects in court.

U.S. officials are also trying to solve the monumental task of rehabilitating a police force that the public once considered more brutal and corrupt than most criminals in the city's jails.

During Saddam Hussein's rule, the police force in Baghdad numbered more than 16,000. But almost half of the police force fell under the category of Saddam's feared intelligence and security units, including the Special Republican Guards and the Fedayeen.

Those police who did not serve in Saddam's elite units were poorly paid, undisciplined and disorganized.

Sergeant Major Guyette says the U.S. military police have now been given the task of training about 4,000 Iraqi policemen who have volunteered to come back to work.

"We were the legal system until we brought the police back and got them re-energized," he said. "Their techniques of policing are a lot different than our techniques for policing. Their traffic police just do traffic. The patrols just do patrolling. And the patrolling does not have much connectivity to the police thing. So, we are combining all that effort."

To speed up the learning process, the U.S. military has begun holding three-week police training courses at various locations in and around Baghdad. Each course is limited to 300 people, which means it will be months before all 4,000 Iraqi policemen in Baghdad can be re-trained.

Raid Musahir, a policeman in the capital under Saddam Hussein, faces a five-month long wait before he can attend a training course. While he waits, he said he is going out on patrols with the Americans to learn their way of policing.

Mr. Musahir said the Iraqi police had no authority before to arrest anyone, unless it had a court order to do so. He said he now has the freedom and the power to make the decision on his own.

But many people here believe Iraqis like Raid Musahir and the U.S. soldiers trying to create a viable police force face an uphill battle to continue the work that has been started.

On Saturday, a powerful roadside bomb in the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killed seven Iraqi policemen and wounded dozens of others, shortly after they had graduated from a U.S. sponsored training course.

It was the most deadly attack by insurgents in the area, who have frequently been targeting police stations and others deemed to be cooperating with U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

The U.S.-led administration remains optimistic that such violence will not deter Iraqis from wanting to become law enforcement officers under American supervision.

The long-term goal of the administration is to create a Baghdad police force of at least 18,000 that can function independently of the U.S. military.

But with attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqis working with them becoming bolder by the day, it remains uncertain how much of that goal can be accomplished in the coming months.