RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Iraq, plans are underway to retake the city of Mosul. It's under the control of ISIS militants who are said to be preparing to defend the city. The U.S. and Iraqi leaders are still trying to decide when their forces will be ready and who exactly should fight. NPR's Deborah Amos met police from Mosul who say they are ready to fight ISIS now, but they do need help.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: This is the police force of Mosul. They now live here in flimsy tents after militants ran them out of their city and their homes in June. They slosh through rivers of mud for a meal of steaming rice and chicken ladled out of aluminum pots from the back of a pickup truck. On one row of tents the word SWAT is written in English, a reminder of better times when the U.S. spent billions on a 10 year program to strengthen the Iraqi police. They worked alongside Americans to kill or capture Islamist militants.
There are more than 4,000 officers here, says General Wathiq Hamdani, the police chief till 2008, now with the Ministry of Defense. He tells me these men want to lead the fight against ISIS. For many, it's personal - militants targeted their families. Hamdani calls the militants by the Arabic name Daesh.
GENERAL WATHIG HAMDANI: All of these police and the officers, Daesh, killed some of them family and brother. One of them, they killed my son.
AMOS: He keeps a picture of the son he lost on his cell phone.
HAMDANI: I want to see his picture.
AMOS: His brother is missing, too.
HAMDANI: And now my brother - captured my brother. He's a lawyer.
AMOS: He's angry at the loss, frustrated that the battle for Mosul is on hold. Baghdad has failed to back this police force. In the meantime, they have support from Americans who have visited this camp and offered to start training soon.
HAMDANI: Maybe in the next week. Maybe.
AMOS: They also say that they will send you weapons?
HAMDANI: I don't know because now the weapons came from Baghdad.
AMOS: So far, Baghdad has delivered one small shipment, a thousand Kalashnikov rifles and some anti-tank weapons. It's not nearly enough, says Hamdani, and he knows it's due to distrust, another example of the Sunni-Shia divide. The police force is mostly Sunni. That's a plus in the battle for Mosul, a majority Sunni town. But the central government is dominated by Shiites. They accuse Sunnis of welcoming the Sunni militants of ISIS, joining them in a sweep across north and central Iraq. And they're reluctant to arm Sunnis, even these officers. The government suspended police salaries in June. But Hamdani points out that the Mosul police is diverse. Major Mohammed, a detective, says the police force reflects every community in Mosul, and they all volunteered to fight.
MAJOR MOHAMMED: You'll find Christian with Muslim, Kurdish and Arabic. We live as one man. I think that's good point to give.
HAMDANI: Good relation between Muslim, Sunni, Shiite in this camp.
AMOS: After lunch these tents are crammed with uniformed men keeping each other's spirits up on a cold and soggy day. They've served together for years and now wait for attitudes in Baghdad to change. It's a waste of manpower, says Dr. Rafea al-Eissawi.
DR. RAFEA AL-EISSAWI: When they voluntarily come to fight it means they are credible.
AMOS: He's a former prime minister, a Sunni Arab. His mission - to get the Sunni forces recognized by the central government. And here's why - the Iraqi army and Shiite militias fighting with them are distrusted and feared by the Sunnis. Sunni forces like the Mosul police have street knowledge. They have ties to the local population. Now they need official backing from the government.
AL-EISSAWI: They have to pay for them and have to give them really good weapons in order to fight against Daesh. Without arming the Sunni, nothing can move.
AMOS: It's a problem across Iraq. Baghdad remains reluctant to arm Sunnis. Even a U.S.-backed plan for a National Guard, a mostly Sunni force, seems to be on hold.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello?
AMOS: At the police training camp, this phone call signals a small victory, a breakthrough from Baghdad. The Interior Ministry has agreed to restart salaries for the Mosul police. They are now an integrated official fighting force.
So you got your salaries?
HAMDANI: Yeah, yeah. Very good.
AMOS: It's a good sign, says Detective Mohammed.
MOHAMMED: Now the government is changed. It's not like before. That is good point for us.
AMOS: But a more important point - no word yet on any more weapons or an order to begin the battle for Mosul. The longer it takes, the better the Islamic State can prepare for the assault.
Deborah Amos, NPR News, Erbil.
MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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