U.S. Troops Take Town; Giving It to Iraqis Not Easy

U.S. forces have reclaimed the town of Muqtadiya, north of Baghdad, from Sunni insurgents. The U.S. troops want to hand it over to the Iraqi security forces — but mutual suspicion and a lack of cooperation are hampering the process.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In Iraq, U.S. forces have expelled Sunni insurgents from the town of Muqtadiya, northeast of Baghdad. Now the Americans want to hand it over to Iraqi security forces, but they're not having an easy time working that out.

Here's NPR's Jamie Tarabay's report about her trip through Muqtadiya with U.S. troops.

Unidentified Man #1: This is your headquarters compound. The Muqtadiya local police station is in that building right there.

JAMIE TARABAY: Part of the problem in Muqtadiya can be seen at the district headquarters in the center of the city. It's a vast walled compound surrounded by checkpoints and roadblocks. Almost all of the local police stations are inside the compound.

U.S. Lieutenant Chris Nogle(ph) from the 293rd Military Police Company says the Iraqi police seem more worried about appearances than the fact that being grouped together like this makes them a huge target for insurgents.

Lt. CHRIS NOGLE (293rd Military Police Company): One guy wants a bigger, better office. They change their mind about where they are. They want to change. It's their decision. I don't know if it comes from the actual district commander or from the city council. But we want to separate all these stations to get them out into where they actually belong so they can do their job.

TARABAY: Three months ago, a suicide bomber dressed in an Iraqi police uniform walked into the compound and blew himself up in a line of policemen waiting to get paid. Nogle says at least 13 were killed.

The MPs have been working to train the Iraqi police to take over more duties, including patrolling Muqtadiya and its surrounding villages, but the process is slow. Inside the headquarters Nogle tells the supervising Iraqi officer he needs 35 policemen to attend a two week training course at a nearby police academy. The response is less than enthusiastic.

Lt. NOGLE: He says that 35 is too many?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

Lt. NOGLE: How many can you give me?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: He said depending on the situation here we don't have anyone to send over there.

Lt. NOGLE: Well, there were a bunch of (unintelligible) that the whole swat team was standing out on the road. And one truck...

Unidentified Man #2: You can see we don't have...

TARABAY: The conversation goes back and forth as Nogle writes in his military issued green notebook. The supervising officer says the local police are short-staffed. The district headquarters should have 1,300 police. But of the 300 who turn up to collect their pay, only half actually report for duty. The supervisor says the Iraqi army refuses to go on joint patrols with the police. He won't say why. He also complains the provincial council hasn't provided any funding for fuel in months. Nogle tries to steer the conversation back to the police training project.

Lt. NOGLE: Does he (unintelligible) out and to the south gate on Saturday for the training?

Unidentified Man #2: He said (unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: Twenty-five.

Lt. NOGLE: Twenty-five?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

Lt. NOGLE: OK. My commander said he wants 35. He told me that I had to get 35, but if you can promise me that you can get 25, I can take getting yelled at for 25.

TARABAY: Nogle says the rivalry here between the Iraqi army and the police is based on the sectarian makeup of each force. In Baghdad, the police are largely Shiite and the army mostly Sunni. But here in Diyala Province it's the reverse. The mostly Sunni police and the mostly Shiite army blame each other for sectarian violence in the province.

Later that morning, U.S. forces escorted Muqtadiya's Mayor Najim Harbi(ph) to the village of Shakrut(ph), which U.S. forces cleared of insurgents last month. Harbi wants the American troops to move on to other villages in the district. He says the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government have done nothing.

Mayor NAJIM HARBI (Mayor, Shakrut): (Through translator) If it wasn't for the U.S. troops, I'd have gotten nothing. The government hasn't given me a thing. And if the coalition forces don't watch them and supervise them, the Iraqi security forces won't do a thing either.

TARABAY: The mayor says because the Shiite-dominated army unit isn't from Muqtadiya, it's not interested in making the city safe.

(Soundbite of car)

TARABAY: But driving back to the base, Lt. Nogle says there are also plenty of drawbacks with the largely Sunni police force, the IPs.

Lt. NOGLE: You think they're from here so they care about security, but they all have their own personal interests, their own personal agenda.

TARABAY: How many IPs have your arrested for killing and stuff like that?

Lt. NOGLE: I don't know all of the numbers off the top of my head, but it's pretty common. Whenever we come upon any kind of - any incident, any crime, or anything like that, to find somebody who has an IP badge. So it's really hard to trust them on anything. One day they're in the station, they're your friend, and the want to go out on a joint patrol with you, and the next day they're the one who you're going on a patrol to go kill or to go capture. Or they're the ones setting the IEDs, you know.

TARABAY: Last Saturday, 22 Iraqi policemen turned up for the U.S.-led training course. Two of them later dropped out.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, in Diyala Province, Iraq.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.