Iraq Police Struggle With Lack Of Care

Tens of thousands of Iraqi police officers and Army soldiers have been wounded since the war started in 2003. But there are few systems in place to help them: no medical care, no pensions. Instead many are kept on the Iraqi police payroll, swelling the numbers of officers unable to carry out their duties.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. In Iraq this weekend, roadside bombs have killed at least two Iraqi soldiers and wounded one Iraqi police officer. The toll is virtually a daily burden on Iraqi's security forces. Tens of thousands of Iraqi policemen and soldiers have been wounded in the six years since the U.S.-led invasion, but few get good medical care, and there are no working pension systems. Instead, many are kept on the Iraqi police books, swelling the numbers of police officers who cannot carry out their duties. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the northern Iraqi city of Mosel.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's training day at the police academy in Mosel. Names are called out. One by one, men line up with their belongings before getting marched off to their barracks.

In a corner of the large, dusty lot, about a hundred men huddle together. Many in this group lean on crutches. Some are in wheelchairs. One man has metal pins piercing the skin of his right leg, holding his shattered bones together. Abdulsamat Halaq Halil(ph) was wounded in a roadside bombing.

Mr. ABDULSAMAT HALAQ HALIL: (Through Translator) We've gotten no compensation. It's been two years since it happened, but I've got nothing from the government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These men are paid half of the regular policeman salary in lieu of a pension or other support. Still, they say, it's not enough. Muhammad Jimahalad(ph) needs surgery on his badly injured foot.

Mr. MUHAMMAD JIMAHALAD: (Through Translator) I was told that my surgery would cost 8 million Iraqi dinars, but I have no money to do it. I can't walk without crutches. The only place they can do the surgery is in Syria, but I don't have the money to go there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hussein Ali Jasmaboud(ph) was shot multiple times in the abdomen and legs. He's sold everything he has to help pay for his medical care.

Mr. HUSSEIN ALI JASMABOUD: (Through Translator) The government tells you to be patient. I've been patient for five years now. I suffer from severe pain. Besides the money issue, the government says if we spend more than 15 days away from our posts, they'll stop paying us. I can't have surgery and recover in that small amount of time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now the U.S. military, which oversees police training in Mosel, says the men need to be taken care of some other way. Captain Charles Muller(ph) is with the 302nd 2nd MP company out of Grand Prairie, Texas.

Captain CHARLES MULLER (U.S. Military Police): There are some of the people that they keep on the payroll, or have kept on the payrolls in the past - one of the things that we're working with them to do is get these guys who aren't capable of doing the job and work, getting them off the books so that we can hire more able-bodied policemen, and get those able-bodied policemen on the streets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As the U.S. military lowers its profile here, American commanders say it's become more important than ever to get Iraq's police up to par - especially in Mosel, where there is still a thriving insurgency. Captain Muller says that corruption is the main problem. Much of the money that should go for the care of wounded officers is siphoned off by interior ministry officials and senior police commanders.

Captain MULLER: The pension program - it exists, but sometimes you can get lost in the shuffle when you're outside of the influence of the people who have the money and distribute the money when payroll time comes around.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Still, Iraqi police general Fouaz Mahmoud(ph) says that for now, keeping the officers on the active police roster is the only way to support the men.

General FOUAZ MAHMOUD (Iraqi Police Department): (Through Translator) They were all once policemen. Nothing was wrong with them but because of terrorism, they were disabled. They had no choice in the matter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nearby, the injured men are told to get in line. They are about to be taken for a medical review. Muhammad Fatah Ahmed(ph) was once an interpreter for U.S. military. He was threatened by militants, so he joined the police. He was then shot in the line of duty.

Mr. MUHAMMAD FATAH AHMED (Former Interpreter for U.S. Military): I have a bullet in my left leg. But now I can't walk (unintelligible).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's scare he will be fired, and then he'll have no source of income.

Mr. FATAH AHMED: Help us. We did everything for them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I fought the terrorists, he adds plaintively, and no one seems to care. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mosel.

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