Iraqi cops take the lead, with a little help
January 16, 2007
ALBU FARAJ, Iraq — In a way, the soldiers who live, eat and work at the Albu Faraj Iraqi police station are like older brothers to the newly minted policemen.
The Police Transition Team is there for guidance — to back up the Iraqis and teach them a few things. And much like a younger brother hanging out with his older, more experienced sibling, the policemen want to prove themselves to the soldiers.
The ultimate goal being, for both parties, a functioning, independent police force.
As sheiks join together with coalition forces to fight insurgents in Jazeera, which is just across the Euphrates from Ramadi proper, Iraqi police stations get set up in the tribal neighborhoods, complete with transition teams to help the police get started.
At Albu Faraj, the team is originally an artillery platoon with Task Force 2-37.
When the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Division moved from Tal Afar to Ramadi in October, the platoon became police advisers and moved into the old stone house that is the station.
The soldiers live in two rooms, one upstairs and one down, crammed with bunk beds. The living conditions are sparse, cold and fairly dark. But the upstairs room has a large television hooked up to a satellite.
Piled next to the fridge are stacks of Gatorade and juice boxes, and they often microwave mini frozen pizzas for lunch. They can get take-out dinners down the street at Forward Operating Base Blue Diamond.
Last week, in the hallway outside the soldiers’ room upstairs, an Iraqi police lieutenant was angrily talking to a policeman whose pistol wasn’t working. The lieutenant wanted to fire him.
Sgt. Jason Taylor, 28, had to intercede. He showed the lieutenant that the gun had just malfunctioned and explained it happened every once in a while with that type of pistol.
Also in the curriculum: how to fill out police reports and have an efficient filing system.
“Before it was ‘I have it in my head, and if you need to know something you have to come find me,’” said Taylor, of Roswell, N.M.
When not on patrol, the police transition team often becomes the complaint department.
The colonel of the Albu Faraj station goes to 1st Lt. Victor Somnuck, 24, of Miami, who heads up the transition team, with his gripes about pay, ammunition and supplies.
Before getting paid for the first time four months after the station opened, the police officers would hound the soldiers.
“When you go down the stairs the second your feet hit the floor a group of guys surrounds you. ‘Mister, mister! Money, money!’” Taylor said.
Before going on a patrol, the police check in with the soldiers, showing them on the map where they’ll be. Some of the soldiers accompany them to provide security and guidance — but the Iraqis take the lead.
“The community would rather see them lead than coalition forces,” Taylor said.
On a recent patrol, the police and the soldiers searched a house and questioned the owner, who lied about how many weapons he had. The soldiers’ first instinct was to detain the man, but the Iraqi police said he wasn’t causing any trouble in the neighborhood
“The IPs said no, and we follow what they say,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin McKeithan, 39, of New York City.
So the officers just confiscated the man’s weapons instead.
The Iraqis know the culture, the customs, who belongs and who doesn’t, said Lt. Col. John Tien, commanding officer of the task force, which is out of Giessen and Friedberg, Germany.
During the patrol the police found a weapons cache hidden under hay in little huts near a large field where cows graze. It was filled with mortars, TNT and boxes of ammunition.
When an Iraqi police lieutenant came into the room, a smiling Somnuck congratulated him on the cache find and then proudly gave him a high five.
GI keeps tabs on the local mood
ALBU FARAJ, Iraq — Out on patrol earlier this month with the Albu Faraj police, Sgt. Stephen Burnham was handing out Iraqi police stickers to children and chatting up the adults.
Burnham, 30, is with 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, 4th Psychological Operations Group, out of Fort Bragg, NC.
His job with Task Force 2-37 is to assess how Iraqis feel about the police and coalition forces and promote the successes in the area.
At one point during the patrol, an Iraqi man showed Burnham where insurgents, hiding across the river, had shot at his house and hit his car. The area on the porch that was fired on is normally where his children play, he told Burnham.
Burnham used the opportunity to talk with the man about the insurgents’ motives.
“That’s what the insurgents think about the people. They don’t care,” he told the man.
Burnham said he was going to have an interpreter record a message to play over the speakers of the Humvee, promoting the police confiscation of more illegal weapons that day.
“It shows them the [police] are doing a good job to keep the neighborhood safe,” he said.
Burnham spent a lot of his time during the patrol interacting with the children, giving them round stickers that said IP for Iraqi Police.
“If we don’t make friends with the kids, then the next generation will grow up to be terrorists, too,” he said. “I want to show them we’re not just the guys who kick the doors down and drag their dads out.”
— Megan McCloskey