On Patrol with the Iraqi National Police
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
And I'm John Ydstie.
We're about to walk you through one of the most hazardous sections of Baghdad. It's part of our focus this week on Iraqi law enforcement. U.S. officials hope an improving police force can give security to Iraqis and credibility to their government.
MONTAGNE: The area we'll visit this morning has been hit by a string of murders. As you listen to what's about to happen, bear in mind that the people involved describe this as an ordinary day.
NPR's Steve Inskeep followed U.S. troops on a joint patrol with the Iraqi National Police.
STEVE INSKEEP reporting:
This patrol starts in the parking lot of an Iraqi police station.
(Soundbite of police radio)
INSKEEP: It's decorated like the parking lots of many Iraqi police stations: with the bullet riddled remains of Iraqi police trucks. U.S. Army Sergeant Matt Blocker(ph) climbs in his Humvee, then sizes up one of the Iraqi cops who will join this patrol.
Sgt. MATT BLOCKER (U.S. Army): You can just tell that he's scared.
INSKEEP: Scared to go out of this compound?
Sgt. BLOCKER: Yeah, kind of scared to go into the sectors we're going into.
INSKEEP: The Iraqi police pile into pickup trucks that have no armor. They join Americans in a convoy to a violent area called Doura.
Sgt. BLOCKER: Roger that.
INSKEEP: It's on the edge of Baghdad. It's home to a volatile mixture of Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Kurds, even Christians. Just last week, some were firing at Iraqis and Americans on patrol.
Sgt. BLOCKER: Hey, Alex(ph), we're going to stop and talk to some people.
INSKEEP: Sgt. Blocker calls on his Iraqi interpreter, who wears a cloth over his face to hide his identity. U.S. soldiers, Marines and Iraqi police set off on a foot patrol. They're not taking too many chances: Humvees creep behind them, machine guns ready. But they do chat with residents along a strangely quiet shopping street.
Sgt. BLOCKER: Ask him where the trouble is.
ALEX (Iraqi Interpreter): (Speaking foreign language)
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
INSKEEP: The man claims that one problem is this very branch of the Iraqi police. Some Americans are coaching Iraqi cops, especially the Iraqi patrol leader, Sgt. Hayder Schenshen(ph).
Unidentified Man: He said eight.
Sergeant. RICK RIMINDER(ph) (Gunnery Sergeant, U.S. Army): He brought eight.
Unidentified Man: Yeah, eight. Six guys and two drivers.
INSKEEP: American Gunnery Sgt. Rick Riminder and his interpreter are trying to figure out if Sgt. Hayder might have left one of his men behind.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sgt. RIMINDER: See.
Unidentified Man #2: You forget something here.
Sgt. RIMINDER: No, no (unintelligible). It was 10 in the truck when we left.
Sgt. SCHENSHEN (Iraqi Police Officer): (Speaking foreign language)
Unidentified Man #2: No, I think nine.
Sgt. RIMINDER: You better check to make sure.
INSKEEP: The Marines offer basic advice with humor and a slap on the back. Keep your gun pointed at the ground in case it goes off. Do not shoot people just because they insult you. And if curious children come to stare at you, let them stay because insurgents may be reluctant to start shooting.
Hayder Schenshen, the man they coach most, is clean-shaven. He's 21 years old. He's been in the national police for less than a year.
Sgt. SCHENSHEN: (Speaking foreign language)
INSKEEP: He says he's one of 12 children and the only one who has a job. He comes from Sadr City, a gigantic slum that is the power center for Muqtada al-Sadr, a political and militia leader. Hayder insists he was not part of a militia, though he says half of his unit comes from Sadr City. The competence and the loyalties of people like Hayder Schenshen may affect a good deal of Iraq's future.
Unidentified Man #2: We got a mortar up on the roof, a mortar round.
INSKEEP: Somebody in the neighborhood tells the patrol about an artillery shell that landed at their house.
(Soundbite of Iraqi patrol on bullhorn)
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
INSKEEP: The patrol warns civilians away. And as they wait for the bomb squad, Marine Sergeant Kyle Gybe(ph) has time to talk about his job. He's an advisor who lives with this unit of Iraqi National Police. The police have made some progress, though he says some lessons have to be taught again and again.
Sgt. KYLE GYBE (U.S. Marines): Wearing their gear, how to treat civilians, how to treat prisoners. They have this nasty habit of freakin' putting sandbags over their heads and popping 'em one with the butt strokes of their weapons. But we're always there trying to stop it, 'cause they automatically assume: hey, we picked this guy up; he's automatically a bad guy.
But a week down the road, they're let go. And we're trying to make them understand that they're not all bad guys, but if you butt stroke one of them with a freakin' thing over their head, they're going to turn into a bad guy and not like you anymore.
INSKEEP: The bomb squad arrives, the patrol moves on. And its day seems almost over, when a signal comes over the radio.
(Soundbite of police radio)
Unidentified Man #3: I think they found a dead body or something.
Unidentified Man #4: There's somebody firing a shot at the (unintelligible) or a dead body.
INSKEEP: It's in a white vehicle down the street.
Unidentified Man #5: I see one bullet shot through the windscreen--two.
INSKEEP: Just as they approach the vehicle…
(Soundbite of gunfire)
INSKEEP: Troops point their guns over the walls, looking for the source of the shots.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
INSKEEP: The patrol leaders decide that whoever may be shooting, it is not directed at them, so they turn their attention back to the body. It is the latest of the bodies that have turned up here everyday for weeks. Residents have been throwing barriers across their streets to keep gunmen from dumping corpses there. When Army Captain Paul Olsen(ph) questions residents, he's not able to learn much about what's happened.
Captain PAUL OLSEN (U.S. Army): Would he know anything? I mean, would he know the reason why this guy got shot?
Unidentified Man #6: No. But he said that some insurgents with the--some car he don't know.
INSKEEP: There's a pick-up truck on this street. It's full of equipment: fuel, cans, jars, and so forth; pieces of furniture, metal piping. The driver appears to have been shot through the windshield. He's slumped over at the wheel.
Capt. OLSEN: What is he saying?
Unidentified Man #7: (unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #6: Push that car. They remove.
Capt. OLSEN: We can push it. But we're going to leave it here for right now, until we get to see who the guy is.
Unidentified Man #8: We need some gloves!
INSKEEP: Somebody produces surgical gloves and a military medic pulls out the man's possessions. He had a pack of cigarettes. He had a thin wad of Iraqi money, which now has a bullet hole in it. An interpreter studies his papers and cards.
Unidentified Man #6: His name is Mohammed Ali(ph).
Capt. OLSEN: Mohammed Ali.
INSKEEP: Mohammed Ali was a Shiite Muslim. He was born in 1967. He worked in the Ministry of Construction and Housing. In this area suffering sectarian killings, his religion could have been the reason for his murder. But so could his government job, or simply his existence. A witness reveals that the victim's son had been in the truck, escaped the shooting and ran. The passenger door still hangs open.
Capt. OLSEN: And 13 bullet holes into the vehicle.
Unidentified Man #9: Right here?
Capt. OLSEN: Yeah. There're too big for nine-mill.
INSKEEP: The materials gathered by the military medic may be the only evidence that will be preserved. Police investigators are overwhelmed with cases. So this is what will happen: The National Police will soon drive away the body. Iraqi Sergeant Hayder Schenshen will soon pick up the victim's cell phone. He will call one of the numbers stored inside and inform whoever answers that Mohammed Ali is dead.
His men lay the corpse on a piece of carpet. And as they lift it into their pick-up truck, a little girl, maybe five years old, appears in the doorway across the street. She's wearing a purple dress. She studies the body steadily. A man who might be her father tries to push her inside. The Iraqi girl pushes back and keeps watching.
MONTAGNE: You can hear more of our reports on the challenges of policing Iraq at npr.org. Steve Inskeep has been reporting from Baghdad, where this week's coverage of Iraqi security was produced by Jim Wallace. As with all of our coverage from Iraq, it was produced with the help of NPR's Iraqi staff who live this story everyday.
(Soundbite of music)
YDSTIE: Senior leaders in Iraq are said to be preparing a major restructuring of the security forces in the capital, Baghdad. The plan is to place all police officers and paramilitary soldiers under a single command. Currently, tens of thousands of police officers, soldiers, and paramilitary troops, whose identities and allegiances are not known, roam the city.
MONTAGNE: Throughout Baghdad, private militias and death squads carry out sectarian reprisal killings daily. They commonly deposit their often-tortured victims on the city streets. Iraqis in this new national police force would wearing newly designed uniforms, and drive patrol cars that are similar, making them easily identifiable. It's hoped that the plan will help curtail the sectarian violence that is terrorizing the city, and reduce the American military presence in Baghdad.
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