Iraqi Scam: Looking For Police Job, Finding A Con

A manual laborer awaits to be employed in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City. i i

A manual laborer awaits to be employed in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City. Sagging world oil prices have left Iraq with a big budget gap and forced the government to freeze hiring, even in the army and police. Karim Kadim/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Karim Kadim/AP
A manual laborer awaits to be employed in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City.

A manual laborer awaits to be employed in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City. Sagging world oil prices have left Iraq with a big budget gap and forced the government to freeze hiring, even in the army and police.

Karim Kadim/AP

Despite the stress and the danger of working in the Iraqi security forces, those jobs are among the most desirable in Iraq because there are few alternatives.

But sagging world oil prices have left Iraq with a big budget gap and forced the government to freeze hiring, even in the armed forces and police — two areas where the U.S. government has been supporting a buildup.

The result is that millions of young Iraqi men remain unemployed. Their desperate search for jobs has fueled a new kind of scam. Con artists are telling men that they can bribe their way into the security forces. The would-be recruits pay up, and the scammers keep the money for themselves.

The United Nations says at least 28 percent of Iraqi men ages 15 to 29 are unemployed, and many more are underemployed and unable to get more than occasional work.

Saleem al-Mayahe, 42, says it is well known that there are ways to get around the government hiring freeze — by paying some money in the right places. The desperate situation prompted him and other family members to pay $4,000 in bribes in hopes of getting police jobs for his three adult sons.

Unfortunately, Mayahe says, he applied his bribe in the wrong place. He paid $500 to a local Sunni cleric who said he had influence in the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for hiring police.

Worse yet, Mayahe says he persuaded other members of his family to pay as well — eight $500 bribes in all. After stalling for weeks, Mayahe says, the con man escaped to Syria with the money and hasn't been heard from since.

Now, Mayahe says he has been selling everything in his house, including his wife's gold jewelry, to make up for the money his family members lost.

Iraqi policemen undergo training. i i

At Camp Dublin, on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraqi policemen undergo training under the tutelage of Italian military advisers. In this training scenario, policemen act as bodyguards and maintain a tight pattern around the man designated as "the VIP." When shots ring out they cover him while shooting back. Corey Flintoff/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Corey Flintoff/NPR
Iraqi policemen undergo training.

At Camp Dublin, on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraqi policemen undergo training under the tutelage of Italian military advisers. In this training scenario, policemen act as bodyguards and maintain a tight pattern around the man designated as "the VIP." When shots ring out they cover him while shooting back.

Corey Flintoff/NPR

When the government was forming the security forces, Mayahe says, it was relatively easy to get hired, but his sons were hoping for better, safer jobs, so they didn't apply.

Now that Iraq's economy has worsened, jobs are even harder to find.

Mayahe says he knows that what he did was wrong but he was so desperate, he would have done anything to find work for his sons, even dangerous jobs in the police.

Mayahe's sons, all of whom have families, survive on occasional odd jobs. He says that government promises of work are all lies and hypocrisy.

U.S. policy in Iraq made it a top priority to build a strong army and police force, a task that meant hiring and training hundreds of thousands of men.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe says that effort has been a success story. "It's well over 600,000 that actually are uniformed service members or police," he says.

But the Iraqi army and police have virtually stopped hiring. "Essentially they've been operating under a hiring freeze for more than a year," Rowe says.

Iraqi members of Parliament who oversee the police say they have heard complaints of corruption in recruiting, but so far, no one has brought them enough proof to open an investigation.

An estimated 250,000 young men come of age and start seeking jobs in Iraq each year. If the government can't find work for them, the temptations of crime and insurgency could grow.

Mayahe's 25-year-old son, Mohammed, doesn't see any solution to his problems. He says killing and stealing are among the options that tempt young men like him when there is no honest work available.

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