Iraqis overwhelm police recruiting drive
KIRKUK, Iraq — Hussein Karim Hussein has been trying to join the police force here for the past four years.
The first time he tried to sign up, the 30-year-old Sunni Arab said an official demanded a bribe of 4 million Iraqi dinars, the equivalent of nearly $2,700, in exchange for getting him into the provincial training academy.
The second time he tried to join, another official wanted $2,000 in U.S. cash, Hussein said.
Exasperated, Hussein went to Baghdad, thinking he might have better luck by applying directly to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior.
“Unfortunately, I found there that if you’re not a member of a Shiite militia, then you can’t be a policeman for the Ministry of Interior,” Hussein said, speaking through an interpreter.
Hussein thought his luck might finally change when U.S. and Kirkuk police officials launched a new recruiting drive three days ago. However, his hopes were dashed one more time Thursday when he showed up at the provincial training center, only to find himself among thousands of other desperate job seekers.
“Right now, I’ve given up hope,” said a dejected Hussein, after he was turned away along with thousands of other applicants. “I was hoping that I might get hired today, but right now, I don’t think I will have any luck.”
Kirkuk police officials began the five-day drive hoping to find enough applicants to fill 1,300 slots for the next recruit training class, which begins in January. But more than 4,000 men showed up Thursday alone, the first day of the new push.
Many were already lined up outside the facility before the gates opened at 7 a.m. Their numbers soon overwhelmed the U.S. platoon and Iraqi officers who were stationed on the site.
Lt. Col. Dennis Sullivan, commander of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, said recruiting was shut down early Thursday after a U.S. adviser witnessed an Iraqi police officer taking a bribe from an applicant.
Sullivan said he intends to have enough U.S. soldiers and police advisers on hand to prevent bribe-taking and other abuses when recruiting resumes Saturday.
“We want to keep them honest,” said Sullivan, 41, of Oxford, Mass.
Still, he said the effort was much more successful than Kirkuk’s first police recruiting drive four years ago, when only 35 to 40 applicants showed up.
“It’s kind of a testament to an irreversible momentum,” Sullivan said. “It’s employment, but it’s also a respected profession.”
On Thursday, about 2,000 applicants were admitted inside the compound, but at least that many were turned away, according to U.S. soldiers.
Warning shots had to be fired at one point to keep the event from descending into chaos, said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Aker, with the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division’s Police Training Team.
“Guys were trying to storm over the walls here a little while ago,” said Aker, 41, of Cincinnati. “It’s pretty mellow now.”
Once inside the compound, applicants formed three lines: one for Kurds, one for Arabs and one for Turkmen, which represent Kirkuk’s main ethnicities. Police officials sort applicants by ethnicity because they want to keep a proper balance on the force, Aker said.
Applicants also had to prove they reside in Kirkuk and have at least a middle-school education. They also had to pass a brief physical fitness test, consisting of a 25-meter dash and 10 push-ups, Aker said.
Hussein was lucky enough to make it past the gate, but he never made it inside the recruiting office. By 11:30 a.m., Iraqi police ordered all applicants to leave the compound.
After some men protested, police in pickup trucks eased into the crowd, while other officers moved in on foot, swinging billy clubs to get the hundreds of men who still waited in line to disperse.
One man walked away from the crowd shaking his head in disgust and made a thumbs-down gesture. Another man shouted, “If you have $500, then you will get hired today!”
Saman Ghafour, an unemployed 22-year-old Kurdish militia fighter, said he’d been waiting in line since 5:30 a.m.
“I want to protect our country and bring stability and protect the citizens,” Ghafour said. “I’ve been going through the line several times, but every time I get close to the window, they keep pushing me back. I never got to turn in my folder.”
Anwar Latif, a 29-year-old Kurd, said he simply wanted a steady paying job.
“I have a family to support, and right now, I’m only doing day labor for a maximum of two days a week, and that’s not enough,” said the father of two. “But if this is the way things are organized, then it’s impossible to get a job.”
Khalid Ibrahim Hassan, a 21-year-old Arab, complained that he, too, couldn’t find work anywhere else.
“My dad passed away in a (car bomb) explosion, and now I need to support my family and my father’s family, but every time I get close to the window, they just push me back,” Hassan said.