BAGHDAD — U.S. troops detained eight Iraqi police officers in a Shiite section of eastern Baghdad Wednesday, saying the officers had taken an active role in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Wearing handcuffs, face masks and their distinctive, bright blue uniform tops, the policemen were led one by one from a station in the New Baghdad area and taken away in waiting American Humvees.
All eight were low-ranking officers, said Capt. Josh Campbell, commander of the 54th Military Police company, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. About 200 policemen work out of the New Baghdad station, a few miles from Sadr City in an area that has seen frequent clashes since late March.
The station itself has been attacked several times, according to U.S. troops who share the station with the Iraqi police.
Coming as the U.S. military continues to push Iraqi forces to take a leading role in combat operations, Wednesday’s arrests highlight continued concerns about the loyalty of some of those forces. A series of high-profile defections followed the Iraqi army’s March 25 assault on the southern port city of Basra and in the early days of subsequent fighting in Sadr City.
But many U.S. officers have concluded that Iraqi security forces largely survived those initial problems, rebounded quickly and emerged stronger.
Army Lt. Col. Scott McKean, whose troops patrol New Baghdad, said the new round of fighting had forced Iraqi Shiite troops whose loyalties had been in question to choose sides, often openly.
"After 25 March, a lot of people cast their cards," McKean, commander of 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, said. "They had to choose whether they were with the militias or the [Iraqi security forces]."
McKean said the Iraqi troops that remained loyal to their units were increasingly confident in confronting problems within their own ranks.
"Before, they knew they had some corrupt guys but didn’t feel like they could do anything about it," he said.
Campbell said much of the evidence that led to Wednesday’s detentions came from other Iraqi police officers at the station, which he called a "bonus."
"The IPs took an active role in policing up their own," he said. "But it’s a delicate situation. We’re trying to build the credibility of the ISFs, and any kind of negative information or publicity doesn’t help that."
Campbell said it wasn’t clear whether the detained officers were part of a formal militia. He said the arrests followed a lengthy investigation that would continue.
"Those eight might lead to more," he said. "We’ll see what comes from this."
Still, he added, "eight out of 200 isn’t that bad."