MUQDADIYAH, Iraq | Seven years after al Qaeda´s attacks in New York, a participant in that drama is part of the effort in Iraq to thwart extremist violence and help establish stability.
Donald Young, a retired New York City policeman, gives basic law enforcement training to paramilitary police near the market town of Muqdadiyah and, in doing so, uses photographic images of the horror at ground zero in a slide presentation to catch their attention and establish rapport.
“I wanted you to see these pictures,” he tells a class of Iraqi police recruits in the Muqdadiyah area of Diyala province. “I was there. I had friends killed.
“This is when America was attacked. This is why we are here. Some say Iraq had nothing to do with this, and that can be argued, but the bottom line is we´re fighting the same kind of enemy.
“We´re a team. We have to be united,” he says through an interpreter.
Mr. Young, 49, isn´t a soldier, although he wears a uniform and carries a weapon. He´s a security contractor with MPRI, a Washington-based firm. He works with the Army´s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Diyala province.
He has been in Iraq several months, the latest stop in a journey that began Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was working street crime in Midtown Manhattan,” he recalls. “I was on my way to court when the planes hit and rushed to the scene. I was 100 meters away when the North Tower dropped.”
Like other policemen that day, he did his job, trying to rescue al Qaeda´s victims and getting people out of the area. In the months that followed, he helped sift the debris from the Twin Towers.
In February 2002, he retired after 20 years on the force and moved into security work as a contractor.
His first stop was Asia, where he performed duties on contract for the U.S. State Department. Two years followed in the Congo, where he handled security in and around the international airport in Kinshasa for the United Nations while training policemen there on his own time. The next stop was Afghanistan as a police trainer, and now he is in Iraq as a security specialist attached to the Army.
“I had other opportunities at home after Afghanistan, but when I saw that helping train local police would help our troops in the field, I had to keep doing it. If I can help one soldier get home sooner, get home safe - no matter how goofy that sounds - then it´s been worthwhile.”
Mr. Young began training police recruits in Diyala province´s “breadbasket” agricultural area last month at the request of Lt. Col. Rod Coffey, the commander of the 3/2 Stryker regiment.
Diyala province consists of a volatile mix of Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs. However, after Sunnis boycotted elections in 2005, the Shi’ites took control of the government and its agencies.
The majority of police, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior of the Shi’ite-dominated national government, are Shi’ite.
They include many who are thought to be - or have been - members of Shi’ite militias that fought fierce battles in 2006 and 2007 against Sunni Arabs after al Qaeda and its sympathizers after terrorists destroyed a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra and nearly ignited a sectarian civil war in the country.
Mr. Young´s approach to the sectarian divide is to repeatedly stress professionalism.
“You´re policemen,” he tells a gathering of recruits at a U.S. combat post outside Muqdadiyah. “You have to act professional. You have to put whatever feelings you may have toward other groups out of your mind on the job.
“We hear [the police] have been infiltrated [by extremists],” he says later. “I think they´re being weeded out daily, but it´s still a problem. You have to build pride in themselves and in their units so the decent ones will step forward and turn in the bad ones.”
Mr. Young´s teachings are basic - how to disarm a person, arrest a person safely, the telltale signs of a suicide-vest bomber, how not to disturb possible crime-scene evidence, how much force to use and how to work with the courts.
“If you´re trying to arrest a man and he starts fighting you with his fists, is it OK to shoot him?” he asks.
“Yes” was the near-unanimous reply from the recruits. “No, No, No,” Mr. Young says with a look of shock on his face. “Your force has to be proportionate.”
Mr. Young acknowledges that his short classes are no substitute for those at an American police academy, but that sort of instruction could be months away for recruits in Diyala province, who are simply given a uniform and a gun and sent to work.
“You have to give them something in the meantime,” he says. “The police in Iraq take the brunt of [terrorist] attacks. They take the knocks but haven´t been supported enough” in comparison to the Iraqi army.
“They´re in the back seat” on training and support, he says.
“The police here aren´t like the police in the States or in Europe. They really are a paramilitary force. … But I truly believe we are all law enforcement brothers.”
Mr. Young lives on Forward Operating Base Normandy on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah.
His quarters are as bare as any soldier´s. The food´s the same, the amenities and distractions just as bleak, the aches at the end of the day after wearing more than 50 pounds of body armor in 120-degree heat no different. He also pines for his wife and three young children in New York just as any soldier does for his or her family.
“I´m blessed,” he says. “She really deserves better, but she understands this is what I have to do.”