The Police Man from an Iraqi perspective
I was invited for a meeting discussing the multiple complicated aspects of the current situation in Iraq. This meeting was sponsored by the British Defence Academy and was attended by high-Profile British political and military figures, civil servants, journalists and academics interested and/or involved in Iraqi affairs. There were around twenty people there with five Iraqis only
As the discussion went on, the issue of Iraqi Police force came out and the invited guests, especially those who served in Basra expressed their concerns about the competence of Iraqi police to deal with the present situation and their ability to provide security. The points that have been highlighted by the guests were true. However; most of them seemed to lack the knowledge of the social dimensions, already known by ordinary Iraqis, about “Iraqi Police Phenomenon” (I personally think that we have a unique kind of Police force unlikely to be found in other areas on this planet).
Unlike the Army, being a police man in Iraq is not a highly respected job. In fact it has a bad reputation and for decades the posts for police men were filled by people from low socio-economic classes, most of them are illiterate or with very basic literacy capabilities. The majority of them are from the countryside or from families that have migrated for different political/economical reasons from the countryside to the cities hoping for better life. This background created a complex personality that bears all the seeds of contradictions (class clashes, inferiority complex, tribal vs. civil traditions, lost identity…etc)within it and this to a large extent was obvious in their performance not only recently but since the days of the monarchy.
We Iraqis know what does “Abu-Isma’il” and “washer” mean but unfortunately most Westerners do not have an idea about them. For decades the Iraqi Police force is known to be one of the biggest organizations in Iraq plagued by corruption and bribery. Since the monarchy era, the Iraqi police was not trusted by Iraqis and if we have a look at the history of the clandestine opposition parties in the 40s and 50s Iraq, we will notice that they focussed their attention and efforts on the Army for a hope of change rather than on the police. Police was seen by most Iraqis as agents and tools in the hands of the government rather than a force its top priority is to provide security to ordinary people. Older Iraqis will tell you a lot about the bad reputation of Bahjat Al-Attiyah and his secret police system in late forties and fifties. Most of Iraqis remember the notorious Samir Al-Shaikhly, who once appointed as minister of Interior in mid-eighties. I still remember police cars (were Mercedes first but later replaced by newer Oldsmobile Chevrolets) patrolling the streets of Baghdad in search for teenagers and young people wearing “western style Jeans, necklaces and T-shirts with English words written on them” or putting headphones. They usually detain them for few hours, slightly insult them and they give them advice about what to wear in a conservative society like Iraq. We grew up with these fears from the Police force and we still haunted by these images even in our exiles in the West.
Until now I do not feel comfortable when I see a police man walking on the street here in London and always try to cross the street to be away from them. In the first few days of my arrival here in Britain I saw two police officers, a man and a woman, walking in the Hyde Park with Mars chocolate bars in their hands immediately smiling if your eyes come across theirs. Unfortunately, this is the picture that most of the British or the Americans had first in their minds when they hoped to build the Iraqi Police Force. But the reality is completely different from these great expectations and it is a very difficult task to change the image inscribed on the Iraqi mind about their Police force. But what is the best solution to solve the problem of building a decent and competent Iraqi Police force. I regrettably do not know.