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U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jim Minick meets with Fallujah police officials to discuss setting up a new police department in the suburban city of Karmah.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jim Minick meets with Fallujah police officials to discuss setting up a new police department in the suburban city of Karmah. (Andrew Tilghman / S&S)

KARMAH, Iraq — Even the police are scared in this mostly Sunni city just a few miles east of Fallujah.

“I don’t want the police to go into the market to buy food, it might be dangerous,” said the soon-to-be police chief here, Col. Njaem Abddal Anfos, said during a recent meeting with U.S. Marines.

“You’re police!” an apparently stunned Lt. Col. Jim Minick told the Iraqi officer. “If you can’t go buy food, then who can?”

The exchange came at a meeting last week as U.S. troops try to install a new police department in this city of roughly 50,000 before next week’s national elections.

Like several other cities just outside Fallujah, this dusty and densely populated city has become a staging ground for insurgents operating just outside the ring of security checkpoints that restrict access to the volatile urban center.

Before the new batch of police move in, the Marines are trying to lay out their expectations for the new security force, which will be an extension of the existing Fallujah District Police Department.

“There is one thing you need to understand,” Lt. Col. Bill Mullen, the operations officer for the Fallujah-based Regimental Combat Team 8 (RCT 8), told the designated Karmah police chief and several other Fallujah police leaders.

“The police will not be sitting inside the police station afraid to go outside. It’s very important the police push out into the neighborhood,” Mullen said.

“From the day you set foot out there, you are going to be in charge of that town. If you get attacked, you need to show them that that kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

For several months, the Marines have patrolled the city of Karmah every day with few problems.

The marketplace bustles with commerce. On one recent afternoon, hundreds of residents milled about as a falafel stand sold snack foods, fish salesmen cleaned fresh cod at a sidewalk stall, and old men stared out shop windows, sipping dark, syrupy tea from tiny oriental glasses.

Nevertheless, a previous effort to set up a police force this fall ended in failure, and the police bracing to move in here may have good reason for fear.

Shortly after the constitutional elections in October, the Iraqi police first tried to set up a permanent security force after U.S. forces paid $315,000 to renovate a police station.

But within days, a throng of masked insurgents accosted four officers patrolling through the bustling market place. In a public show of force, the insurgents demanded the police surrender their American-bought flak vests and Kevlar helmets, then shot the men, leaving their bodies lying in the midday sun.

About two weeks later, insurgents mounted a full-scale assault on the police station with a barrage of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, sending the dozens of police fleeing and ending any semblance of police presence in the city.

Since early November, Marines have occupied the station to prevent insurgents from taking over or destroying the structure.

Now, Marines from the Camp Lejeune-based 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment here are waiting for a new crop of police to show up and try again in preparation for next week’s nationwide elections to select local and national officials.

The initial effort to set up a police department was “a token effort” with just a few dozen officers, said Maj. Kevin Clark, the Iraqi security forces coordinator for RCT 8.

Problems were compounded by the fact the police were not getting paid due to financial problems at the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, Clark said.

And many of the police were hired from Fallujah and other cities rather than from Karmah itself.

“To a certain extent, we had to adjust our plan and start recurring some people from the area,” Clark said.

The Marines want to support the new police force, but that effort is complicated by local politics that prohibits them from openly training and working with the police.

“If they see us out with the coalition forces, they will follow our families and children and they will kill our families and children,” Col. Njaem Abddal Anfos told the Marines.

“I am honored to work with you. But I am just telling you the nature of our society. Please don’t take offense to it.”

Minick nodded and said, “No offense taken.”

Local police are a critical piece of the plan for long-term stability in Iraq, said Capt. Joel Schmidt, the company commander who oversees the city of Karmah.

“It’s huge,” he said. “In the long run, who takes care of civil affairs? The police. If you are trying to have a democracy, the army focuses on the external problems and the police handle internal ones.”

“We say this is a counterinsurgency, but in many ways this is really just about countering crime,” Schmidt said.


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