Attacks fuel tension between Iraqi army, police
June 27, 2006
DULUIYAH, Iraq — At 1:22 p.m. Saturday, a man in a dirty white van drove up to an Iraqi army checkpoint in the center of this Sunni town northeast of Baghdad.
As the van reached the army checkpoint, which also is manned by local police, a shooter fired several shots from the opposite direction, diverting the attention of the guards. The van driver suddenly swerved left and rammed into a vacant shop, detonating the van.
Three Iraqi soldiers died, 11 were injured. Two Iraqi policemen were injured.
A local driving ban was immediately ordered by the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, a Fort Carson, Colo.-based Army unit which patrols the region.
Could the bomber have been stopped? In a nation where nothing is simple, the anatomy of a suicide bombing is a study in complexity, mistrust and mixed emotions.
Eventually, U.S. Army officials say, the man would have passed through at least one Iraqi police checkpoint on his southward voyage. In this volatile region, local police — more than half of them members of the influential Jabouri tribe, which Army officials say has links to insurgent activity in the area — outnumber Iraqi army soldiers two to one.
And tension between the two groups is evident.
The morning after, local police chief Gen. Mohammed al-Jabouri — who sports gold-rimmed aviator glasses, a well-trimmed moustache and “Miami Vice” hair — sat in his office and fumed as he was berated by Capt. David Sandoval, commander of Company A, which patrols Duluiyah.
“It’s not fair to punish the [Iraqi police] all the time if there is a car bomb or a suicide bomb,” Mohammed complained, in Arabic.
“Who else is there to punish?” Sandoval countered. “Who has more checkpoints out here?”
“The I.P.,” Mohammed said.
“Who has more people?” Sandoval said.
“We do,” Mohammed said.
“Who is responsible for the security inside the city?”
“I am responsible,” Mohammed said. “Believe me, we do the best to make the area safe. But this, what happened yesterday, we can’t handle it. I know 100 percent that my people do their job very well. But this guy is a suicide bomber. How can we stop him?”
“If [the Iraqi army] had more people,” Sandoval countered, “and you knew that car came through one of their checkpoints, you would be upset.”
Despite both falling under the umbrella of Iraqi security forces, it is clear — in Duluiyah, at least — that there is little love between the Iraqi army and police, and between the police and the people.
American officials say it’s difficult to trust those who Iraqis must trust to keep security.
“I know that the [police] organization over there is infiltrated,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeff Martindale.
“No one keeps them accountable,” Sandoval added. “The Iraqi police has turned over zero [suspicious] personnel to me in the last seven months. I don’t know why. They know who all these people are. There’s a reason there have been no [Iraqi police] killed by terrorists,” he added.
“There have been at least four [Iraqi army] soldiers killed, execution-style, in their homes and between their homes.”
Locals view the violence with a suspicious eye and with unnerving equanimity.
Tunis Abed, a 36-year-old who is pregnant with her seventh child, gathered her six children as she waited for the men to return from a funeral Sunday.
On Saturday, her family’s Iraqi army guard — assigned to guard the house after the death of her husband — heard the shots and ran to the scene to help. He was killed in the blast. Abed’s husband, an Iraqi army soldier, was killed seven months ago. These days, one man takes care of nineteen people.
“The Iraqi police are no good in this area,” she said, as her eldest son nodded. “They are working with the terrorists. If we see the Iraqi police here, we don’t feel safe.”
When asked about the victims’ families, Mohammed, the police chief, shrugged.
“My responsibility is to be the chief,” he said. “I’m not responsible to ask about the families. I don’t need to visit them. I feel what they feel. I feel like I lost my sons.”
Sandoval said he hopes the bombing won’t set back the positive progress his company has made with local security forces. In the last month, his company has worked with the local army unit to conduct joint patrols, man checkpoints and root out insurgents.
He offered Mohammed an exasperated ultimatum.
“There has to be some trust between the [Iraqi army] and the [Iraqi police],” he said. “When I leave, you guys are going to have to work together. Unless you’re just going to kill each other.”