Iraqi forces go after lion's share of responsibility
May 6, 2006
MOSUL, Iraq — The sun had barely risen above the concrete blast walls of police headquarters Thursday and Col. Abedul al-Kareem Mohammed Khalaf was already logging the day’s first terrorist arrest and chastising three young lieutenants for letting another evil-doer escape.
The lieutenants and a group of patrolmen had shot it out with an insurgent the day before, during a massive, ongoing sweep of Mosul by Iraqi forces. Yet after firing off all of their ammunition, the lawmen had no dead or captured insurgents.
Instead, they had a bunch of angry business owners whose buildings were damaged in the gunbattle. And the officers told one patrolman’s family that he had been killed in the shootout, when in fact he was only wounded in the leg.
“I want to fire you,” an angry Khalaf told the men.
The exchange was just one of many that has earned Khalaf the reputation as being a tough and demanding commander of Mosul’s police department in the new Iraq.
As the Iraqi police chief of operations for Nineveh province, Khalaf helped direct more than 1,500 Iraqi police and army units during the massive cordon-and -search operation under way in Mosul.
The operation, dubbed Operation Lion’s Hunt and planned and executed entirely by Iraqi security forces, marks a turnaround from 18 months ago, when Iraqi police collapsed before an insurgent onslaught. Lion’s Hunt, U.S. advisers say, is proof that local police are now poised to take full responsibility for the city’s security.
“The million dollar question is — how much longer do they need our support to function here,” said Master Sgt. John Ladik, 38, of the Hanau, Germany-based 709th Military Police Battalion, one of the U.S. Army units advising the Iraqi police.
The operation was conceived as part pre-emptive strike against insurgents, part public relations campaign and part joint maneuver training with the Iraqi army. Since the operation kicked off April 30, insurgent attacks in the city have dropped markedly.
The daily routine
Each day before dawn, Iraqi army and Iraqi police units cordon off major bridges and roadways leading to specific neighborhoods. Police officers conduct informal searches in several different neighborhoods each day, hitting both quiet and troubled quarters. To date, they have detained more than three dozen suspected insurgents.
In most cases, the suspected insurgents are from out of town — many from the northwest city of Tal Afar — and have tested positive for having explosives residue on their hands. A large shuttle bus follows police commanders through the streets, ferrying prisoners to local lockups.
The operation was the idea of Iraqi police Maj. Gen. Wathiq Mohammed Abdul Khadir al-Hamdani, the provincial police chief and a former commander in Saddam’s army.
“As a commander in the former Iraqi army, I know that the best defense is to make an attack,” the provincial chief said. “I want to prove to the people of Mosul that the police are stronger than these insurgents.”
Throughout the operation, Iraqi police commanders have gathered in the early morning each day to guide officers through the operation. They are assisted by an Iraqi army liaison and U.S. military advisers, plus a small contingent from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team that has helped establish cordons around city neighborhoods.
According to U.S. advisers and Iraqi commanders, the operation has already paid benefits with respect to local residents.
“Already, civilians are stepping forward with information,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lucas, 27, of the 549th Military Police Company. “Things are quiet and the locals like it that way.”
On Friday, a crowd of dozens of civilians captured and bound a suspected criminal and brought him to the front gate of a local police station in western Mosul as Lucas visited the station.
The operation was also aimed at improving the relationship between Iraqi police officers and Iraqi army soldiers in Mosul.
“Up until now, the issue has been that most of the army is Kurdish and most of the city is Sunni Arab,” Ladik said. “We’ve been trying to get them to talk and they just won’t do it. There are issues between them that go a long way back.”
As Iraqi army units secure intersections and bridges within the city, Iraqi police conduct searches on most residences, but not all. U.S. advisers call the searches “passive searches” and say they’ve hit roughly 60 percent to 70 percent of the homes in a given neighborhood.
“The chief didn’t want them kicking down doors, he wanted them knocking on doors,” Ladik said.
On Wednesday, Iraqi police and army units searched a neighborhood in southeast Mosul, one of the city’s more troubled neighborhoods. Capt. Larry Bergeron, 31, of the 459th Military Police Company was on hand to observe the process and chat with Iraqi police commanders who sped to and from search sites in armored cars and SUVs.
Bergeron, a native of Independence, La., said he believes local security forces could stand on their own within weeks if they had to. He said his judgment was based on extensive interactions with commanders and officers.
“You get to know people and after a while the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces become like a team,” Bergeron said. “We treat each other as brothers and that’s a strong word in this community.”