Friday, May 23, 2003

Baghdad Police Join U.S. Military in Raid 

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Baghdad Police Join U.S. Military in Raid

Associated Press Writer

May 23, 2003, 3:25 AM EDT

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- It was not unlike other recent raids in this lawless capital, with U.S. troops in helmets and flak vests running crouched down along the perimeter of a building, then dashing into an open doorway.

Except two of the raiders had no helmets and were wearing the white shirts and green pants of Baghdad's reconstituted police force.

Although joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols of Baghdad's streets began almost two weeks ago, Thursday's raid on a three-building complex in western Baghdad brought Iraqi police deeper into the Army's crackdown on crime.

The Iraqi officers helped plan and carry out the raid, which forced 25 residents and workers from three buildings housing apartments and offices. MPs detained the group, sitting them against a wall and searching their quarters for what a tipster described as a large stockpile of AK-47 machine guns.

On May 16, Baghdad officers rode along and watched a U.S. raid for the first time. Typically, numbers of U.S. forces far outweigh those of the Iraqis. Thursday's ratio was about 50 Americans to four Iraqis.

"The real message is to the locals," said Lt. Col. Richard Vanderlinden, commander of the U.S. Army's 709th Military Police Battalion, who leaned over the hood of a Humvee and smoked a cigar as the raid kicked into action. "We're going to start taking down buildings and people who are spreading weapons."

Two hours later, there were just two seized AK-47s to show for the effort.

One was taken from a young man who told Iraqi police he was guarding two cases of Pepsi inside a storehouse -- a statement that brought guffaws from both Americans and Iraqis. The other turned up in an open-air bazaar across the street, where women in flowing black robes did a brisk trade in refilled propane tanks.

MPs held four of those captured, briefly pasting red duct tape over the mouths of two angry men who yelled at U.S. troops. Vanderlinden said the four would be interrogated and, perhaps, held for 21 days -- the maximum sentence for disturbance offenses in Baghdad. MPs released the rest when the raid was finished.

Despite the paltry seizure, the joint raid appeared to cater to the strong suits of both the U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The U.S. team clearly excelled in planning and coordination. It deftly sealed off streets. An Army psychological operations team set up a megaphone blaring an Arabic message to "Stay off the streets!" MPs with assault rifles and sledgehammers led the teams clearing and searching the buildings.

But Baghdad police also played a role.

They seemed comfortable in the familiar neighborhood of concrete homes with flower gardens and weren't scanning rooftops for snipers, as U.S. forces were.

Speaking in Arabic, Baghdad officers calmed neighbors and those captured -- most of whom were guilty of nothing beyond living near a building that held a weapon. They assured the detainees they would be released soon.

"We're not scared because we know Iraqi criminals can't shoot," said one Baghdad officer, Sgt. Mohammed Jassim Isa, 28, a wiry man with an upright brush of black hair.

Isa said he didn't envy the sweating MPs in their five-pound Kevlar helmets and heavy vests.

"Why do we need helmets? These are our people. We're here to help them," he said of the row of detainees -- men crouched against the wall, hands clasped behind them in plastic handcuffs. A group of women detainees struck a dignified pose nearby, calm faces framed in black robes undulating in the morning breeze.

Baghdad police learned from the Americans, though. On their own raids, Isa said three officers would handle such a raid with no planning, no temporary detainees, no blocking of the streets. Unless, of course, they were chasing an armed murderer: For that, Isa said, they'd send 10 officers.

"We're going to go with the same formation, the same order, the same methods," he said through a translator.

But with just 8,000 Iraqi police patrolling a city of 5 million, it remains to be seen whether the Baghdad police will have men to spare for American-style raids.

They will, however, soon be toting more than handguns.

As Americans seize weapons, they have begun using them to rearm the Baghdad police, with the intent of giving them enough firepower to combat well-armed criminals. U.S. forces have already handed over more than 1,000 AK-47s to the police, who are cleared to use them after attending a U.S. training course.

Copyright (c) 2003, The Associated Press


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