Iraqi Police Training In Fallujah By Matt Sanchez

This is an exclusive report from Matt Sanchez, who is embedded in Iraq.

Sometime after 0200 Operation Alljah began in a middle-class neighborhood in northern Fallujah. The Marines of the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines occupied a police precinct and began a swarm or strategic blocking off of the streets, in order to control access both in and out of the neighborhood. That morning, by the time I arrived with the 5/10, an artillery unit crossed-trained for civil affairs, the 2/6 were firmly ensconced in the east side of the concrete precinct.

Since traveling north from Kuwait on an Army convoy, and crossing into Baghdad, and later Camp Fallujah, I had always heard stories of how bad, corrupt and unprofessional the Iraqi police (IP) is. “They smile at us when we drive by, because they know there’s an IED planted ahead,” said one platoon leader. An Iraqi interpreter said they were “not to be trusted”, and troops in the Green Zone handled all security so they had little interaction with the Iraqi police and even fewer compliments.

That all changed when we were at the police precinct in Fallujah and a police officer blocked a suicide bomber from passing through the 2nd layer of security for screening potential recruits. Although the press reported 20 victims, there was in fact only one, the suicide bomber. Call me old-fashion, but when someone protects you, even inadvertently, I feel he’s due a fresh benefit of the doubt, so I talked to a couple of police officers and recruits through the interpreter.

Most of the officers were from the neighborhood or Fallujah, which meant they were taking a great risk. The “bad guys” as the interpreter called them, often targeted the politicians, the businessmen and most of all the police. Many officers wore ski-masks so as not to be recognized by someone who may have had explosive issues with authority figures, and what figures they were. In their ill-fitting blue shirts, mismatched uniforms and barely any firepower, the Fallujah police were a Sunni version of the keystone cops.

Despite my Western perception of the Iraqi Police, there was a line of over 300 men who wanted to join the auxiliary neighborhood watch program, with the aspiration of becoming one of those policemen. Marines from the grunt unit 2/6 and artillery unit, turned civil affairs, the 5/10, attempted to barter for the Fallujah Police t-shirts, but I didn’t see any of the Iraqi officers make the exchange (the last bid in earshot was $50 dollars, which represented a month’s pay for some). The Iraqi army, many of whom were Shia foreigners to the city, was better armed and, most felt, better trained, but the men of the Fallujah police force knew the local terrain and gathered more valuable intelligence.

Historically very insular with signs of settlement since Babylonian times, someone from Fallujah will confide more in a fellow Fallujan than in any foreigner, American or otherwise. The police precinct showed promise, I learned that an officer had uncovered information on insurgent activity that lead to an arrest. Major Dietz of the 5/10 said most of the tips they got on terrorist activity came from the citizens of Fallujah themselves. Chief Warrant Officer Townsley, a man who could easily be a former pro-football player and is instead leading Marines in and out of heavily armored social work, agreed. The people of Fallujah seemed tired of the fighting and were cooperating with both the Iraqi Army and Marines to secure their neighborhoods.

Since their arrival, the infantrymen of the 2/6, a unit that initially distinguished itself 90 years ago in the trenches of France, had been assaulted by rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire. The 2/6 lieutenant told me an Iraqi police recruit, who was shot in the finger, proudly showed him the wound and said he was happy to prove himself to the Marine. The young lieutenant later remarked “He didn’t have to go through that much trouble to show commitment.” Considering how much these current and future police officers will have to face to make the city safe, the police of Fallujah will need all the commitment they can get.

This content was used with the permission of Matt Sanchez.

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