Major's mission a monumental challenge
June 29, 2006
DUJAYL, Iraq — Maj. Karl Pfuetze cuts an unusual figure on the streets of this small Shiite town.
With his acerbic, brash language, the stock of supplies he hands out to local police departments, and the 12-gauge shotgun he slings casually over his shoulder, he resembles a green-suited, profane and not-very-jolly Santa Claus.
After a stint on Wall Street in the early 1990s and a year as an infantry company commander in this area north of Baghdad in 2003, Pfuetze, 38, now an Iraqi police liaison officer for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, part of the Fort Carson, Colo.-based 4th Infantry Division, seems oddly suited to working with the wheeling, dealing and outright stealing that has come to characterize Iraq’s police force.
Whipping the police departments into nationally-respected, fully-accountable public bodies is a challenge, he said, and something he doesn’t expect to conquer during his time here.
“I realize I’m not going to get them to a passing grade,” he said of the police departments he works with in this restive, ethnically mixed area. “I accepted that when I took the job. But I can raise them 20 points [in competence] and that’s less Americans we have to send back.
“I’m trying to get us out of here,” he said. “I tell myself that every morning. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.”
Incompetence and corruption aren’t the main problems, he said. Rather, it’s the Baghdad-level bureaucracy that determines which local police department gets Iraqi Security Forces funds, which are separate from the more easily accessible Commander’s Emergency Relief Project funds.
“I’ve had project [proposals] turned in since I got here that have been approved at division and have been sitting in Baghdad for six months,” he said. “We can get money to build drinking water projects, and we can get money to build roads. But I can’t get money to build a police station.”
As he waits for approval on those big projects, he regularly meets with local police departments to give out needed equipment and listen to a multitude of requests for weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, gasoline and money. The meetings have an element of high theater, as Pfuetze is wont to be comically, almost painfully, blunt. Pfuetze — whom colleagues jokingly call “Sheik Pfuetze” — doesn’t mince words. In fact, much of what he says is unprintable.
“Did you sign for your hundred bullets you stole?” he said to a local policeman on a recent visit.
To a request to fix a gas pump on an ineffective generator — to the tune of $1,500 — he retorted, “At $1,500, it’s gonna be broken for a while, because I ain’t gonna fix it.”
To another request from a local fireman to supply local firefighters with firepower, he laughed outright.
“Why would I give the fire department weapons and ammunition?” he said incredulously. “Why would the fire department need weapons and ammunition?”
“As soon as I get out of the Army,” he joked to another police official, “I’m moving to Tarmiyah. It’s my favorite city. That or Duluiyah.”
Local police officials agree that their departments have serious shortfalls.
“The only thing that makes us need this support from the coalition forces is the weak government we have now,” said Dujayl police chief Gen. Mohammed Latif.
Local officials also agree that corruption is a problem. Everywhere, of course, but in their police department.
“There is corruption in the Iraqi security forces,” Mohammed said. “But not in this police force.”
“I haven’t caught the Dujayl police being corrupt yet,” Pfuetze said. “But then, I’ve only [worked with] them 26 days.”
But problems are clearly evident at other stations, where Pfuetze often arrives to find policemen manning checkpoints with dirty weapons, mismatched uniforms and yet another laundry list of requests for equipment he gave them the week before.
After stopping at a highway checkpoint and being accosted with requests of everything from water to bullets to uniforms, he shook his head as he walked to his Humvee.
“I keep telling myself they’re the exit strategy,” he said. “The police are our way out. Otherwise I’d get so frustrated, I’d just want to quit.”