- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

BAQOUBA, Iraq — With just a few weeks left before the formal handover of sovereignty, coalition soldiers training Iraqi police are placing a stronger emphasis on communication and Iraqi self-rule.

According to U.S. Army Capt. Brock Zimmerman, the coalition’s liaison to the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the strategy is to empower and motivate Iraqi recruits to face the new responsibilities.

“We want to give the Iraqis ownership of their force,” Capt. Zimmerman said.

While acknowledging that most of the conscripts are not yet ready to take full control of security in Iraq, U.S. soldiers say they are seeing steady progress.

The training course meets five days a week, involving roughly 500 Iraqis. Officials with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, who are conducting the training, say the goal is to foster a feeling of independence among the Iraqis.

On the roads outside the coalition forward-operating base in Baqouba, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers can be seen manning checkpoints by themselves. U.S. military officials say the mere presence of Iraqi security forces on the streets and at checkpoints could deter anticoalition forces who at times are reluctant to target Iraqis.

However, the Iraqi recruits are not entirely safe. Military officials say Iraqi recruits are often targeted for working with the coalition.

One of the recruits, Joda Hussein, said he received threatening letters because he cooperates with American forces, but he considers it his duty as an Iraqi to provide security for his people.

“The most important thing is to provide a safe environment for Iraqi families so we can safely visit the garden and the holy cities. Most people avoid going to these places because of the violence,” Mr. Hussein said.

He is glad dictator Saddam Hussein has been removed, but said the security situation in Iraq is far from peaceful.

While many of the recruits were soldiers in Saddam’s army, others were civilians in search of work. They are paid about 300,000 dinar a month (roughly $200). They learn basic first aid, map reading, weapons and marksmanship, how to conduct raids and how to detain suspects.

Only a small number of the recruits speak English, so most communication is through an interpreter. However, some of the young recruits understand references to American pop culture, including movie stars and musicians. They laugh and gesture with one another and with members of the coalition, joking, pointing and asking to have their pictures taken.

An Iraqi recruit held up two fingers and smiled while saying he had two wives. Another, who seemed to be joking, said he had 11 children.

Last month, Capt. Zimmerman met with the leaders of the Iraqi police for several hours and gave their leader, Col. Abdullah, $2,000 and 42,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition for use by the police force.

Col. Abdullah refused to give his first name for fear of threats from pro-Saddam insurgents.

As part of the diplomatic efforts, coalition soldiers are also reaching out to tribal leaders to foster cooperation among all sectors of Iraqi society, said Col. Dana Pittard, the commanding officer of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

He said more than 300 Iraqis now work on the Baqouba base — more than three times the number that worked there in early April, when there was a spurt in militant attacks.

“Iraqis are voting with their feet,” Col. Pittard said, suggesting the coalition’s efforts to reach out is helping them gain momentum.

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