On Friday night, I arrived at around 10:45 in the evening at the checkpoint to my hotel. The checkpoint is on a busy street. You are generally greeted by Kalishnikov carrying Iraqi security workers (I believe they are private guards) who inspect your bags and pat you down. This particular evening, I was greeted a couple of meters in front of the checkpoint by a man wearing a ski mask and carrying a Kalishnikov. (For those wondering, it was a brisk but pleasant evening.) He pointed to my bag, and I walked (as he continued to point and speak presumably about the bag—without pointing the Kalishnikov, mind you) a few meters further to the checkpoint, where the regular detail was sitting, and where I hopefully could be seen by American soldiers manning a checkpoint about a block away. I then opened by bag on the concrete barrier as usual, and the man in the ski mask inspected it. Although I was not certain when he first approached me, it became apparent that he was one of the security guys, who just happened to be wearing a ski mask and carrying a Kalishnikov.
It was then that it struck me: I walk through security checkpoints all the time. Some of the inspectors have regular uniforms, and some don’t. After a while, one begins to presume that the men holding guns there are at least neutral guys. But as this story from the Washington Post makes clear, even when they are in uniform and have IDs, you cannot be sure. For those who did not click the link, a group of men with valid Iraqi police IDs created a fake checkpoint, at which they killed two Americans and their Iraqi translator about 60 miles south of Baghdad on Tuesday evening. The story sent shockwaves through the community. I met with a lawyer who handles regional democracy issues for the CPA the morning after the event occurred. In talking to him about my travels, he grew very dour. “Be very careful,:” he admonished. The killings had not yet been revealed, but all he could say was that something very bad had happened the day before to a lawyer.
This goes to the problem of putting together a police force. When the army arrived, the Iraqi military and the police force were completely disbanded. The U.S. had to rebuild from base one. In certain respects, this was good. As Col. John Ferrari informed me in an interview, the previous police force’s idea of justice was “throwing a guy off a roof.” Still, this proved an enormous job. They needed to recruit and train 75,000 police officers. And they are doing it, as quickly as practicable.
The real success in this regard is the Iraqi Civil Defense Corp (ICDC). There are currently 30,000 ICDC troops that have been trained by the U.S. They are recruited from the local towns, and therefore they know the people and the people know them. Given the close-to-home approach, it is not terribly surprising that the early results suggest that the Iraqi people trust the ICDC soldiers and get along with them. They are already being used in places ordinarily manned by U.S. troops, such as at checkpoints, which eases the load on U.S. troops and helps with the transition. They also work extensively with the military units in the outlying cities, helping to defuse potentially volatile situations, and acting as intermediaries between the locals and the army. The training of the ICDC continues, with current plans anticipating that 40,000 ICDC will be trained by the end of summer.