A reader tips me off to this article with the note:
This is what Strategy Page has been saying for a while, CNN just got the news.
It’s an article on the slow-but-sure progress of the Iraqi police system, noting that despite constant attacks and the uncertainly of standing up for something in dangerous times, the force is growing both in size and in capability.
Amid all this, U.S. troops try to maintain a semblance of order and teach the Iraqi policemen at the same time.
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” says 1st Infantry Division Capt. Chris Solinsky.
During the year he’s been living at the station, he says he’s seen the department grow and the Iraqis gain confidence.
“They [the officers] are a lot more willing to go out on their own,” Solinsky says. “Before we came here we used to have to push them out of the door. Now they go out without us, without even notifying us.
“Sometimes we would be in shootouts in the city, in firefights, and I have had the Iraqis standing fighting with me side-by-side, looking out for me,” he says. “It’s extremely dangerous, it’s the Wild West still. Police officers die weekly in the line of duty.”
I’ve said before that it’s going to take Iraqi police and soldiers, some of whom will have to become Iraqi heroes. And many of those heroes will not survive their ascent to hero-dom.
It’s a war, and wars are not pretty things.
Although I’m quite pleased (though not really all that surprised) to see the protesters in Lebanon, Iran, and other places demanding more freedom, I’m not really ready to jump up and declare “Mission Accomplished” just yet. Progress in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places will continue to be slow, and people will continue to be killed.
One of the detectives, a 26-year-old newlywed, barely sees his wife of two months. He doesn’t go to the marketplace for fear of being identified. His entire life has changed, a sacrifice he says he has made to protect his country.
“Colonel A.,” head of the CID, is interrogating a detainee in an orange jumpsuit who is accused of insurgent activities. The 23-year-old Mohammad Jallal trembles under Colonel A.’s hand, which engulfs his head.
“Have mercy on me, please have mercy on me,” Jallal says. Colonel A. speaks to him in a soft voice. “What did you do?” he asks.
“I stole a car. He gave me $200,” Jallal replies, his voice shaking. He says he left home because his parents did not love him and his older brother beat him. He dissolves into tears.
Colonel A. says that Jallal later confessed to killing six police officers on different occasions.
But despite nearly no coverage (I must commend CNN on this article, no matter how much that’s against my natural instincts) headway is being made.
“They’re not kinder and gentler in the handling of prisoners; they think a bad guy is a bad guy,” Solinsky says of the Iraqis. “In many cases these guys are related to someone who has killed a police officer.”
Colonel A. has a scar on his scalp from a piece of shrapnel, testimony to the danger of operating in Baquba, a city northeast of Baghdad and at the center of the Sunni heartland that has been the site of frequent attacks and assassination attempts against Iraqi security forces. The provincial headquarters has come under attack at least seven times in the last year and its officers have been targets.
“They tried to blow up my house, they placed explosives in front of my house, they tried to kidnap my children, they targeted me with a car bomb,” he says. “I have scars from the explosives. I am under threat all the time.”
He pulls out a photo of himself that he says was found in an insurgent’s vehicle. He has moved his family north.
This Captain A. and those like him are the “Minutemen” in Iraq. The soldiers in the new Iraqi Army are the “Minutemen” in Iraq. Maybe even the militia-type groups who are sick and tired of being pushed around by the insurgents in Iraq are “Minutemen”. How someone came to label the insurgents, Baath Party dead-enders, and foreign terrorists as “Minutemen” escapes me. Maybe that guy doesn’t know what a “Minuteman” is? (HINT: It’s not a guy who sets the timer on his bomb vest for sixty seconds and then walks into a government building or a market place.)
There is a long, long ways to go. When I start seeing articles like this on CNN about how the Iraqi Army is really taking it to the insurgents, and how they’ve really developed into a capable, credible force, then I’ll consider lightening up a bit. But we’re on the right track.
“During the elections we were able to boost the morale of our police force. The elections were successful because we were able to break the barrier of fear. We were able to respond to attacks rather than flee, respond to one bullet with 100 bullets,” he says.
Civilian attitudes have changed, he says. “Before the elections, when an Iraqi police officer was killed by the insurgents, most of the citizens would say, ‘OK, let him die.’ They would be happy about the death. Now they are upset.”
Also, he says, people are more forthcoming with information about suspected insurgents.
The long, hard slog toward democracy in Iraq is picking up steam, and it’s the Iraqi police and security forces that are going to have to hold things together in the future. Today we’re helping them lay a foundation for that future.