BAGHDAD — It was a potentially explosive situation, fueled by lingering distrust between Iraq’s two main security forces — the army and the police.

An Iraqi police general on his way home from work was stopped at an Iraqi army checkpoint in the sprawling New Baghdad district and detained. Iraqi soldiers accused him of being an imposter. The general was livid and emotions were running high.

Within moments, both sides were yelling into radios tied into the Zafaraniyah Joint Security Station, a newly established command post and clearinghouse for information between the U.S. military and the Iraqi army and police. For perhaps the first time in their short careers with the new Iraqi government, station police and army officers were able to sort the problem out together and radioed back that the general was indeed a general and should be allowed to pass.

The episode was, in the eyes of some, a prime example of a perhaps unintended but wholly beneficial consequence of establishing a network of some 30 joint security stations throughout Baghdad.

“The Iraqi army and the Iraqi police don’t have a history of working together,” said Lt. Col. Bob Burton, a military transition team officer who oversees operations at the Zafaraniyah JSS. “There was just a certain amount of resistance to it from both sides.

“What I’ve seen happening here is two groups of people who once expressed wholesale distrust for each other now working together.”

There are a number of reasons why the Iraqi army and Iraqi police don’t get along. Part of it has to do with actual and perceived corruption within Iraq’s enormous police force. It also has to do with antagonism and territorial ambitions between Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior.

While the Iraqi army views itself as being better trained and more loyal to an integrated Iraq, it views the Ministry of the Interior’s police force as being loyal primarily to Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority and politicians.

The rivalry and distrust have carried disastrous consequences for Iraqi foot soldiers and patrolmen attempting to maintain order in the violent capital. There have been numerous cases in which soldiers refused to come to the aid of police officers who were being attacked by militants in jointly controlled areas, and vice versa.

Now, with plans under way to establish joint security stations throughout Baghdad as part of an immense new security plan, officers such as Burton say some of the iciness between soldiers and police officers appears to be thawing.

Such was the case Sunday, when Iraqi police officers and Iraqi army officers and soldiers sipped chai together and talked during a surprisingly quiet day.

“When things get slow you’ll see a lot of guys in fatigues and blue shirts sitting around and just chewing the fat,” Burton said. “That alone has some value as far as I’m concerned. Them just getting to know each other fosters trust and comfort.

“I won’t say that everything’s rosy here and that people love each other, but you do have individual soldiers making friends with individual soldiers.”

Burton said he believed those Iraqi security force officers who staffed the JSS would find it very difficult to ignore their counterparts if they found themselves under attack.

“If they didn’t try and help, they know that they’d have to come here the next day and look into the other guy’s face and try to explain why they didn’t help,” Burton said.

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