Saturday, December 16, 2006

Police Should Be Neutral

I read this the other day and I kinda forgot about it. It really shows how the Iraqi police are pressured to be loyal to one party or another, and of course the police should always be neutral politically. Their only job should be to enforce the law.

One cop's story

With Iraq's massive problems, so much boils down to a political solution. While training and reforming Iraq's security forces is billed by many as the way out, how well trained these forces are won't matter if they are beholden to political parties. Below is the story of one police officer who says he lost his job because he didn't join a party. The interview was conducted by Martin Fletcher and Ned Parker.

Colonel Salam Zajay, 45, Police Officer. Shia. Married with four children.

Being a police officer during Saddam's day was dangerous enough: Col. Zajay was twice imprisoned for arresting criminals who had connections high places. But it has become far worse since Saddam was overthrown.

At first the police were given new vehicles and weapons and the future looked bright. But soon militias began infiltrating the new force and Col. Zajay, commander of a police station in Dura, a Sunni stronghold in south Baghdad, found himself under pressure to join one political faction or another. He refused.

He also found himself fighting a rising Sunni insurgency in Dura, and in October 2004 the mujahideen tried to kill him. At 9.30 one evening he was driving his sick wife to the pharmacy near their home in Baghdad's middle-class Mansour district when two gunmen opened fire from a passing car. He was shot in the shoulder and neck, and still bears the scars.

He returned to work four months later, but moved his wife and four teenage children to Syria for the summer of 2005. When he visited them in Damascus, he says, he was spotted and approached by two former members of Saddam's intelligence service who ordered him to return confiscated cars and weapons the Sunni mujahideen. He refused, and immediately flew his family back to Baghdad.

He says his station was mortared 64 times during 2005, and at 8.00am that December 19 he survived another assassination attempt. As he left home for work a car bomb exploded next to his police pick-up. He suffered shrapnel wounds, but five civilians including a woman doctor, were killed.

Col. Zajay has not worked since. Lacking political patrons, he failed to persuade the Ministry of Interior to move him to a safer station. The ministry asked him to work at an even more dangerous place in southern Baghdad. Wishing to survive, Col. Zajay, who is himself a Shia, declined the offer. He felt they were sending him to die. The mujahidin had almost killed him twice and at some point, his luck was bound to run out.

In September his own brother was shot dead as he left his home. The ministry laid him off in October as part of the forcible retirement of 3,000 policemen. The dismissals were called a major effort to get rid of bad cops who didn't show up for work or were linked to criminal gangs or militias. He is sure he was swept out because he was beholden to no one.

This month, Col. Zajay will officially leave the force. Instead of his $600 monthly salary he will receive a pension of less than half that amount.

Col.Zajay wants to leave Iraq. He believes he is still a target, and no longer trusts the force for which he worked for 27 years. The best officers are being removed either by political factions or terrorists, he says. Asked how many of his fellow officers had been killed, he replies: "The better question is how many are still alive. There is no law any more."

Posted by The Times Baghdad bureau on December 09, 2006 at 06:01 AM

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