Iraq’s ‘Ali Baba’ Police

Along with an increase in temperatures here in Baghdad, there is an accompanying increase in tempers where the unfulfilled promises made by the U.S. to rebuild and rehabilitate Iraq are coming more into focus with each passing day. Daily life is a struggle for most Iraqis, and it isn’t helped by the brutal occupation or by the corrupt police department.

That I can come and go from Iraq always makes me feel, well, that I have this ridiculous, unearned privilege simply because I was born in another country.

Even more, that I get short tempered and outraged by things that Iraqis seemingly take in stride on a daily basis… what can I do besides laugh at myself?

While driving towards Al-Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad from which I’ve reported several times, my translator and I were pulled over at an Iraqi Police checkpoint. After a long exchange and much arguing, the car was impounded, despite the fact that all of the necessary paperwork was at hand… well, now it is in the hands of an Iraqi ‘Policeman’ (IP).

The policeman wanted money. Abu Talan wouldn’t pay. We were forced to follow an IP to the lot, drop the car, and take a taxi back to try to find the IP with Abu Talans’ papers. After much looking around, we spotted him, followed him, and regained the papers.

Now all we need is the car, which Abu Talan fears will be looted tonight.

I’ve often read the stories telling of how many of the IP’s are Ali Baba (thieves), and simply use the uniform to take advantage of people. It’s always a different thing to run into it. Pretty unbelievable that this occurs, despite the fact that the IP’s have to pass a rigorous, 18-day training period instituted during the coalition’s desperate attempts to hand ‘security’ back over to the Iraqis before the arbitrary June 30 “handover.”

So there is that privilege thing again – despite working on horrendous stories about detainees being tortured horrifically by U.S. soldiers, dealing with corrupt IPs can still get me worked up.

Forgetting that Iraqis have to live with this – and there is no change in sight.

Yesterday driving down the highway we passed a U.S. patrol traveling in the opposite direction. One of the trucks carried soldiers wielding their guns in the usual way: aiming them at all of the passing traffic. The soldiers had plywood around them as they stood in the back of the truck. On the plywood was spray painted, “South Carolina Killers.”

When do we choose to stop calling the brutal occupiers “liberators,” and begin calling them the names associated with their actions: Killers (let’s start by using one they choose to call themselves), Torturers, Looters, Occupiers, Rapists, Extortionists.

Sounding a bit harsh? I’ll qualify this by saying that I do believe the majority of U.S. soldiers in Iraq are doing their best, trying to do their job and get home in one piece.

But there is a significant percentage who fit the aforementioned labels… for I, along with several other journalists, activists, and human rights organizations have written stories documenting countless examples of each.

When do we choose to begin calling this occupation a failure? The occupiers have to hide behind concrete walls 20 feet high. They are shelled nightly in many of their bases. They drive the streets afraid of sustaining an attack at any time.

Reconstruction (what there was of it) has ground to nearly a complete halt.

We focus on the torture now, while nightly the Coalition Provisional Authority compound across the Tigris is bombed. Just last night I heard several explosions there. My friend Dave calls their press office after our windows stop shaking to ask them where they were hit. The reply? “We don’t know. We’re checking on that.”

If they could only be as honest regarding the entire occupation.

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.