Iraqi Civil Defense Corps is growing
CAMP MULESKINNER, Iraq — For nearly a year, the American G.I. has been the face of law and order in Iraq.
In the coming months, that face will gradually change.
The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, trained by the U.S. military, will be the new enforcers in Iraq, working alongside Iraqi police and a newly trained Iraqi army.
Members of the civil defense corps, known as the ICDC, already are taking their places in Baghdad. Nearly 10,000 currently stand fast at military checkpoints, patrol with American soldiers and watch over key buildings.
To many, the ICDC — which will grow to 40,000 — is a key component of Iraq’s future. For without security, everything is at risk.
“If they’re successful, this country will be secure and sovereign again. It’s all on their shoulders — with our support,” said Lt. Col. Jack Curran, commander of the Regimental Support Squadron for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
There have been a few hiccups in the process.
The U.S. military ordered one ICDC company that had established the corps’ first independent headquarters to move back to its U.S. base camp. The order came down after ICDC members complained they lacked enough bulletproof vests, protective barriers for their headquarters buildings and other supplies. U.S. military officials said the move is temporary.
Every week, 2nd ACR noncommissioned officers bring in, train and graduate 300 ICDC members. More graduate from Camp Falcon. Recruits arrive at a former Iraqi military academy in eastern Baghdad in street clothes. They leave in clean khaki uniforms, toting AK-47 rifles.
“They arrive ready to train. That’s why they’re here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Roy Graves, a no-nonsense drill sergeant. “These guys all have a purpose.”
Most of the recruits are former Iraqi army members. After the military screens applicants, they enter the mini boot camp.
From 4:30 a.m. to 10 at night, the recruits live and train like U.S. soldiers. They run three miles every morning. They learn drill ceremony and equipment maintenance.
U.S. military lawyers teach them the rules of war and the rules of engagement. Civil affairs soldiers train them to interact with civilians. They must qualify in marksmanship.
When they complete their training, they are the ICDC, which Curran likened to the U.S. Army National Guard. The U.S. Army pays them $120 a week — handsome pay in a country where most people make less than $30 a week.
On one recent training day, 100 recruits took turns kicking in mock doors to practice clearing a building.
“Don’t slag the guy behind you!” screamed Staff Sgt. Wayne Mahnke, of the 2nd ACR’s 1st Squadron. That phrase — meaning don’t bump into the guy behind you with your weapon — took a little translation from an interpreter.
“The most challenging thing about the training is the language barrier — just getting your point across,” Graves said.
Being a member of the ICDC undoubtedly is a perilous job.
On Tuesday, the same day these ICDC recruits were pantomiming room-clearing tactics, a car bomb wiped out an Iraqi police station north of the city, killing 55 people. The next day, a suicide bomber struck at an Iraqi army recruiting station in the city, killing 47 Iraqis.
“They become as big a target as we do, if not a bigger target,” Curran said of the ICDC recruits.
Capt. Ali Crane Mohamed, 45, an ICDC squadron commander, said many Iraqis harass him for working with the U.S. military. The former Iraqi army officer said he won’t be intimidated.
“I am prepared for any threat,” Mohamed said.
On Jan. 3, the day the academy opened, a mortar blasted open a pillar supporting the base tactical operations center, Curran said. No one was injured.
Such attacks, Curran said, are meant to undermine the U.S. military’s long-range plan of returning Iraq to the Iraqis.
Curran, 45, of Leavenworth, Kan., said it won’t work.
“Some say ‘these guys are your ticket home.’”