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Staff Sgt. Dean Chatten of the New York National Guard’s 105th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion holds a cigarette lighter designed to look like a military M-9 pistol at an Iraqi highway police station about 40 miles south of Baghdad. Standing with Chatten is Sgt. Michael Yehl. Iraqi police at the station arrested two local boys for using it to rob people and turned the lighter over to Chatten.
Staff Sgt. Dean Chatten of the New York National Guard’s 105th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion holds a cigarette lighter designed to look like a military M-9 pistol at an Iraqi highway police station about 40 miles south of Baghdad. Standing with Chatten is Sgt. Michael Yehl. Iraqi police at the station arrested two local boys for using it to rob people and turned the lighter over to Chatten. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

CAMP KALSU, Iraq — Sixty-two police officers are operating the first Iraqi highway police unit about 40 miles south of Baghdad, working with U.S. military police to patrol a stretch of the coalition’s main supply route and the surrounding countryside.

According to Staff Sgt. Dean Chatten of the 105th Military Police Company, 504th MP Battalion, the Americans have worked to retrain and re-equip the 62 Iraqi police.

“We’re not going to be here forever,” said Chatten, a member of the New York National Guard.

Many of the Iraqis are former police officers and have basic police skills.

“The hardest thing is breaking them of out of the old ‘Saddam ways,’” Chatten said.

“The Iraqi police weren’t paid enough and bribes were an everyday part of the job. They were supplementing the income they weren’t getting.”

The unit’s current police vehicles were confiscated from Iraqis who had fired on coalition forces, and their weapons are ones that were collected during raids. So far the unit has three police cars and a full armory.

Chatten said that training has progressed well and the Iraqis have started patrolling and setting up their own security roadblocks. They expect to be fully operational around Nov. 1.

For their limited resources and time on the job, the Iraqis have had some successes.

“Last night, they found an [improvised explosive device] placed along the road,” Chatten said. The road is the main supply route from southern Iraq to Baghdad, and the police who found the IED probably saved lives.

The 105th is the nearest U.S. unit, about 10 minutes away. “My job is to check on them, write down their needs and concerns … [make sure] they are doing their job correctly, and get them what additional training they need,” Chatten said.

He stopped at the station one afternoon last week with his two-Humvee patrol and met with Iraqi Col. Ali Fakree, one of the station’s senior officers. Fakree walked Chatten through most of the building’s rooms and cells, many of them freshly painted.

Chatten said that as the unit’s skills increase, they will assume a greater policing role.

“They get intel we’ll never get,” he said. “They know the locals, have families here and know the sheiks. They’re quick learners and are coming along nicely.”

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