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KARMAH, Iraq — Though he has been with the Iraqi police for a year now as violence abated in this city, the man did not want his name in print.

Still, for “Ahmed,” joining the ranks of the Karmah police force was personal.

In the war’s first few years, he drove a tractor-trailer and was repeatedly robbed at gunpoint by extremists in this area just north of Fallujah.

Many in the area initially saw extremists in a noble light, defenders of the homeland against the invading U.S. hordes, he said through an interpreter. But as he was repeatedly robbed and friends and neighbors were killed, Ahmed changed his mind.

“It is proven that they are not Iraqi fighters,” he said last week in a station run by police and a platoon from Company L, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. “The only way to fight them is to be an IP. If (al-Qaida in Iraq) is the enemy, the Americans are friends.”

Ahmed’s story is common in this city of 150,000, and among the approximately 150 police in this station.

Part of the mission of 4th Platoon is to keep it secure, Staff Sgt. Michael Hulsey said.

“It’s been get here, stay on post and make sure the post doesn’t get blown up,” said Hulsey, of Kennesaw, Ga.

That hasn’t been much of an issue for the past few months. The platoon has been here since September and, as their deployment ends now, Marines throughout Company L are witnessing a dramatic reduction in violence and a population that seems ready to look to the future.

The Iraqis and Marines repulsed a 20-minute attack on the post in October but that’s largely been it.

Some of the police live within the compound because of threats, Hulsey said, though an effort is under way to make the Iraqis move out due to space issues.

The police are making progress on all fronts, Hulsey said. They’re gradually understanding the administrative functions they need to complete and are improving their policing in general.

But there’s still work to be done, he said.

“They don’t understand what force protection is,” he said. “They sleep on post or goof off, that sort of thing. They can search vehicles, but they’re lazy about it.”

Western policing attitudes toward brutality are slow to settle in.

“We’re trying to teach them how to talk to people without just smacking them around,” Hulsey said.

Ahmed hails from a local tribe. Before joining the force, he said, he and others in their village once ambushed and killed four extremists. As payback, extremists kidnapped and killed nine of his family and blew up their house, Ahmed said. They also tried to kidnap him.

But police are not a cure-all for the area’s problems, he said.

“We are all IPs,” he said. “But some in charge, the sheiks, bring someone to be an IP who was a bad guy before. But because the sheik says so, he will be an IP.”

Issues also abound with getting paid on time.

Marines like Hulsey, who need to get feed their families, understand there were financial reasons for locals to side with extremists in the past. But as a Marine who fought in the area in 2004, that reasoning can sometimes be hard to swallow.

“Ninety percent of them were fighting us,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to forget. We don’t treat them bad because of it, but we don’t turn our backs on them at the same time.”

Many of the Marines have improved their Arabic along the way, the platoon commander, 1st Lt. Andrew Macakca said.

Still, there are day-to-day issues when living with the Iraqis, the Marines said. There are hygiene and water-use issues, as well as what Hulsey called “sticky fingers” resulting in Marine possessions that go missing.

But like everything at this station, that requires patience.

“Under Saddam, there was the super rich and the super poor,” he said. “A lot of these guys are the super poor. They made a living off of being sheisty. We’re trying to snap them out of that reality.”


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