FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Editor’s note: This is part 1 in a three-part series on the struggle to gain a lasting and sustainable peace in the city of Fallujah. Regimental Combat Team-6 is currently operating in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After four years of fighting in Iraq, the terms ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ have entered the vocabulary of American conversation about the conflict. Daily reports of sectarian violence in Baghdad paint a picture of Iraq as a bitter and irresolvable tangle of ancient hostilities American intervention could never hope to resolve.
Fallujah, nestled near the eastern edge of Anbar, is a Sunni city. The mosques preach Sunni doctrine, the schools teach Sunni thought and the police who patrol the streets are Fallujan Sunnis. When the Iraqi Army was introduced to replace battalions of American troops in the city, the perception among the local populace was that an army of outsiders – outsiders who represent the Shia government in Baghdad – had come to occupy their ancient city.
In Fallujah, however, the last group of Marines living in the heart of the
‘City of Mosques’ is working daily with the Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA), the two groups of armed Iraqis dedicated to enforcing the rule of Iraqi law. Instead of wallowing in the Sunni-Shia rift, the two forces are transcending the divide and working closely together to bring law and order to this war-torn metropolis lying just a few scant miles west of Baghdad.
“When we first got out here, (the IP) mentality was a fort mentality: ‘Let’s fortify this position and just stay here,’” said Lance Cpl. Michael Rickard, a 23-year-old Florence, Ala., native and squad leader with the Fallujah District Police Transition Team. “But now they’re willing to show a presence in the city. They’re making the effort and taking on danger themselves. It seems like overall the standards of the IPs are improving.”
Recruiting dedicated volunteers key
Unlike the Iraqi Army, which is assembled into brigades and battalions with soldiers from all over the country like Western armies, the Iraqi Police are recruited from within the local population. One of Rickard’s responsibilities is organizing the recruiting drives for the Fallujah District IPs. It is key, he said, to speak directly to the youth of the city.
“That 15-to-25-year-old who only lived 14 or 15 years under the regime is the one who can see change,” he said. “The younger ones are the ones who will effect the country in the long run. We’ve got to show them this is their city.”
Deliberately building the police force from the ground up with Fallujans was a conscious decision, said Rickard.
“It makes (Fallujah citizens) feel safer that it’s the ‘Sons of Fallujah’ on the streets,” he said, referring to the nickname of the Fallujah Iraqi Police. “There are lots of families in the IP, lots of brothers, cousins, uncles.”
Family connections, as well as the connection each Iraqi policeman has to his city, have been important in building the numbers of the force, said Rickard.
“A huge factor in (the success of) the latest recruiting drive is we focused on the IPs getting out and promoting the drive themselves. They handed out fliers and drove through the streets the day of the event. We had a huge turnout; we had to actually turn away several people,” Rickard recalled.
The close ties to the city among the policemen serve as a unifying force. This is not unexpected; the IPs defend their city with the fervor of men defending their homes, their families and their friends.
New leadership brought discipline, confidence, respect
The improved standards among Iraqi Police have garnered them respect from the more-experienced Iraqi Army. More respect means an increased willingness to work together during operations. In the city this translates into the Iraqi Army handling a large portion of the security and “door-kicking” once executed by Coalition Forces.
This atmosphere of cooperation really began to develop in December 2006 when former Iraqi Army officers took the reins of the Fallujah IPs. The new leadership brought soldierly order and discipline to the ranks of what is essentially a band of deputized civilians tasked with facing down heavily-armed insurgents to enforce Iraqi law in the city.
“I am seeing a lot of discussion between the IA and IP. Before, there was no sharing of knowledge between the two, but now they are working well together,” said Capt. Tad R. Scott, the 35-year-old PTT executive officer and police officer, from Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The effect of this on the Fallujah civilian population has been enormous, said Rickard. Seeing the ‘Sons of Fallujah’ working with the Iraqi Army has lent an air of legitimacy to the presence of the Shia government’s military inside the Sunni city. Watching the IPs and IAs operate jointly has yielded positive results in the form of tips coming from civic-minded Fallujah residents more concerned with carrying on their lives than fueling Sunni-Shia rivalry.
“Marines and (IA soldiers) are showing more respect to the Iraqi Police,” said Rickard. “We don’t see the Sunni and Shia problem in this city. The people see the IAs working with the IPs, and say to themselves, ‘Well, since these guys (the IA) are working with our local police, they must be alright.’”
Working toward rule of law
Now that the IPs have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in Fallujah, the task of learning concepts like probable cause and chains of custody for evidence lies before them.
Permanent effects against criminal campaigns require successful prosecution of the lawbreakers. Iraqi judges, like those in the US, require sufficient evidence of guilt. Detainees are accompanied on their journey through the Iraqi court system by a “packet” containing witness statements, police reports and other examples of physical evidence against them. Judges then examine the evidence to determine if there is sufficient cause to send the detainees to a trial.
The police are starting to send detainees up through what judicial system exists here, but collecting proper evidence and establishing a solid case is still something the fledgling police force has not mastered. Through the efforts of the reserve Marines on the PTT team, many of whom are experienced law enforcement officers in their civilian careers, progress is being made.
As the IPs develop skills to put together solid evidence packets on detainees and pass them to the judges, they are seeing the bad guys they put in handcuffs eventually landing in jail for lengthy sentences. Tangible results like these build confidence in the legal system, said Cpl. John Szafranski, 27, a New Jersey state trooper and advisor to the Iraqi Major Crimes Unit here.
“They realize they actually can make a difference,” he said.