- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

DAQUQ, Iraq — Crammed into a dank holding cell that reeks of bad breath and body odor, 15 Iraqi terror suspects sit on a floor covered with dirty blankets, waiting to be questioned by local police.

Mostly young men — one of them is 16 — some profess their innocence while others remain silent, looking with fearful eyes at U.S. troops visiting the cell.

Daquq police Chief Mohammed Saleh singles out a prisoner who just days before was one of his officers and is accused of belonging to the nagging insurgency that continues to claim lives in this small town in northern Iraq.

“I was surprised to find out one of our own is a terrorist,” Chief Saleh says.

Capt. Nate Conkey, of a company in the 101st Airborne Division, notes the suspect’s name in his journal and lauds Chief Saleh’s efforts. Earlier in the chief’s office, the captain went through a laundry list of questions, noting whom the chief had captured as terror suspects and the state of security in his working-class community of 20,000.

Capt. Conkey, who in recent months has forged close working ties with the chief, then asks to see his other recent haul.

In the police station’s courtyard, overgrown with weeds, the captain and Chief Saleh inspect a weapons cache that the Daquq police found days earlier. The arsenal consists of a handful of high-caliber rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, short-range rockets and a few dozen mortar rounds.

The cache eventually will be taken back to the home base of Capt. Conkey’s unit at Camp Warrior, just outside the nearby city of Kirkuk, to be destroyed in a controlled explosion.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force’s explosives specialists destroyed about 4,200 mortar rounds — one of the largest caches found to date — resulting in an earth-shaking explosion and a mushroom cloud that was seen a mile away.

The Daquq visit by Capt. Conkey and his men is a part of his weekly rounds to police stations and municipal offices, in which he discusses security with police and civil leaders.

Chief Saleh and Capt. Conkey’s cooperation is the kind of relationship U.S. forces are trying to forge with civil authorities here, whereby select U.S. troops also gather intelligence at the local level, working with Iraqi authorities to find terror suspects before they strike.

The effort has netted several key suspects in Daquq and other areas in and around Kirkuk, a region that’s home to a diverse population of Arabs, Kurds and Turks. That mixture has resulted in an increase in ethnic and religious tensions since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which was dominated by Sunnis, who routinely tortured, imprisoned and killed Shi’ite Muslims and Kurds in this region.

Although successful on some fronts, the relationship between the U.S. forces and the Iraqi police is far from perfect, say current and former military officials.

Capt. Conkey expressed his own reservations about working with Chief Saleh, who he feared was corrupt on some levels.

“You can only trust him so far,” Capt. Conkey said.

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