V Corps’ law enforcement task force targets Baghdad's criminal elements
BAGHDAD, Iraq — V Corps has formed a law enforcement task force to root out criminal elements in Baghdad that Iraqi police are not yet capable of handling.
Called Task Force Vigilant Justice, the team is headed by the Mannheim, Germany-based 18th Military Police Brigade, according to Lt. Col. Eric Nikolai, the V Corps deputy provost marshal.
“It looks for targets like arms markets, drug dealers, vehicle chop shops — whatever we think is a viable target,” Nikolai said Tuesday. “We’ll apply whatever force is necessary.”
The task force has its work cut out for it. Before the war, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein freed about 100,000 prisoners from jail. Many believe the ex-convicts are some of the culprits involved in serious criminal activity in Baghdad, said Col. Marc Warren, V Corps staff judge advocate.
Depending on the mission, the task force may include MPs, infantry units, detectives from the Army Criminal Investigation Command, prosecutors and military intelligence experts. The task force also has drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs and unmanned aerial vehicles at its disposal.
“I call it law enforcement with an attitude,” Warren said.
The task force, including the Hanau, Germany-based 709th MP Battalion, made its first raid Monday night. Fifteen suspected weapons dealers were arrested. The suspects were loaded with 30 million Iraqi dinar — about $30,000 — in cash. Also seized were eight AK-47 rifles and some fake passports.
The Iraqi suspects were taken to a military jail near Baghdad International Airport and will face criminal hearings in the Iraqi judicial system.
Warren said the initial raid served as good training for the task force. Plus, it will show Iraqis, who remain fearful of crime in Baghdad, that the military is acting aggressively to help solve the problem, Nikolai said.
In addition to its own surveillance operations, such as satellite imagery, aerial monitoring and photography and radio intercepts, the task force hopes to use tips from citizens about criminal activity in their neighborhoods, Nikolai said.
The first raid came two days before the re-opening of one of Baghdad’s largest jails, a 100-bed facility downtown. The development of a working prison system, along with efforts to re-establish a civil and criminal court system, are key steps toward law and order, Warren said.
“It’s not only to go out and get bad guys off the streets,” Warren said. “It also helps us build a case for their subsequent prosecution by an Iraqi justice system.”
In the meantime, MPs have helped establish 14 police stations in Baghdad and are training Iraqi police through joint patrols.
“Reported crimes are on the increase,” Nikolai said. “People are showing up at these police stations when bad things happen in their neighborhoods.”
Eventually, Iraqi police will take over law enforcement in Baghdad from Task Force Vigilant Justice.
The team gets the first part of its name from the 18th MPs’ call sign, which is Vigilant, and the last part from the V Corps staff judge advocate’s goal of bringing criminals to justice, Warren said.