Community Policing in Kirkuk
-Patrick S Lasswell
When we got outside the truck was just pulling up and smack was about to be laid down. After a brief conversation with his officers to ascertain specifics, Iraqi Police Chief Sherzad directed that the suspect be brought out. The brief interview that followed with the young man was distinctly unsatisfactory, and Chief Sherzad slapped the young man. Michael Totten and I were stunned but not threatened. Of course we had not been running around on a motorcycle shooting up Kirkuk.
The situation was puzzling for Michael and me because while obviously intimidating, the police officers were not menacing. For people unaccustomed to law enforcement in the middle east or even in their own towns, this must seem from the photographs to be the worst kind of police brutality imaginable. But it was all very measured and intelligently controlled. If this was Egypt, I would have been sick to my stomach because the police there are deeply corrupt, insufferable thugs in filthy uniforms who view menacing coercion as the high point of their days. These Iraqi Police (of Kurdish ancestry) were clean and fit in uniforms that would be perfectly acceptable in the United States. These are the kind of armed security people from Kurdistan that I am perfectly comfortable getting in a car with after just meeting and going for a drive in the country with. These people are protectors, not violators and abusers. There were other things out of place, though.
In my military capacity I deliver violence at the maximum effective range available to me, my primary training is in directing weapons to target thousands of yards away and underwater. Without compromising national security, I can reveal that I've never had to sink a submarine in a bar fight. Even without a sonar or weapons control computer, I could tell that the blows being landed on the young man were measured. After getting a close up look at the young man's face, I was surprised to see that he wasn't bleeding. If I had been hitting the drive by shooting accomplice, I am certain that I would have done some damage...and I would have been wrong to do so. The Iraqi Police were slapping the young man in a very precise manner, and only Chief Sherzad was doing so...until Mam Rostam came up.
Even before one of the most distinguished of all people in Iraq confronted the drive by accomplice, the young man was having just about the worst day of his life. The story coming out is that he gave a friend a ride on his motorcycle and the friend got stupid and started shooting. This is not an auspicious beginning to one's day, and then he got caught. Hauled away to what is obviously a big shot's house, he is getting smacked around by a police chief who is both extremely competent and seriously pissed off. Two Americans are going nuts getting him on film, one of them is even taking stills with one hand and shooting video with the other. Then in walks somebody who could give Dirty Harry lessons in being a badass and he's not taking any excuses. The smack Mam Rostam gave that kid made a sound like his brains had popped out of his head and dented the truck.
The Iraqi Police are not just giving the young man a hard time for entertainment's sake, they are sweating an accomplice to get a shooter off the streets as soon as possible. When his phone rang, Chief Sherzad made the young man answer it in handcuffs so he could talk his friend into turning himself in. With obvious authority, the chief took the phone and gave orders. Our translator tells us that the deal is that if the shooter doesn't come in, the driver will spend time in prison for him. Some things are still not adding up, though. A lot more made sense when we were told that the accomplice and the shooter were Kurdish and that nobody had been killed. The lack of injury and conversational tone were better explained by that circumstance. Further updates indicated that the accomplice had family connections that are protecting him. Michael and I were happy, if still a bit confused, because we got to record actual security operations in Kirkuk and neither of us were even a little bit blown up.
For the last two weeks, we've been excited to get this story posted because we knew we had something great to share. Last week before he went on an anniversary trip with his lovely wife, Michael posted a copy of the video we took to YouTube. Yesterday I was surprised to find that this was a big hit with a forum I recently joined, The Kurdistani. I asked my friends if any of them would be willing to translate the video for us, and the administrator of the site agreed to do so. Shkar Sherzad Hafiz sent his transcription back very quickly, needlessly apologizing for the quality of his excellent work. Once I read it, a lot more things fell into place.
The story makes a lot more sense now because we know that the young man and his trigger happy friend are part of one of the secret security organizations. He got out of the truck with a load of attitude because he was a hot-shot special operative fighting the good fight who just got picked up by the regular cops. Chief Sherzad wasn't having anything to do with that, and established exactly how deep the manure pile he was in and that his only choices were head up or head down. It took some percussive maintenance on the young man's head to break down the barriers to understanding. When Mam Rostam comes up, the accomplice has a moment of hope which is quickly dismissed with additional percussive maintenance because the Peshmerga legend does not appreciate young idiots shooting up his home town on a lark. After this final moment of manually applied clarity, the young man releases his attitude and realizes that when you are in deep dirt, it is far better to be head up. The young man did not break down in tears even after a world-class slap-down because he has the kind of strength necessary to go dangerous places and deal with dangerous people. He's not in Mam Rostam's league, but who is?
This video and Shkar Sherzad Hafiz's translation tell us a lot of important things about the security situation in Kirkuk, most of them good. It is not good that young secret security agents think they can get away with being idiots with guns for even a second. It is great that they got caught and are getting treated like criminals, regardless of their connections. It is great that Chief Sherzad and General Mam Rostam are deeply committed to making Kirkuk work and tremendously offended by stupid young men who forget that firearms are tools, not toys. It is great that General Rostam let Michael and me out with our video and pictures intact and did not feel threatened by our witnessing this embarrassment. They were more proud of their policemen and the fine work they are doing, as they should be.
A lot of people are stuck on the idea that the Iraqi's can't govern themselves or take care of their own security. Based on my personal, first-hand observations I can say that there are some very good people working to make Iraq safer and doing an excellent job. They are receiving the tools and training to do the job and they have tremendous aptitude and a good understanding of the principles involved. I'm proud to know Chief Sherzad and General Mam Rostam and honored to have witnessed them in action. I'm even oddly comforted by the resilience of the young man who had the worst day imaginable and still kept tremendous composure. Assuming he's not permanently assigned an important position guarding sheep on a mountain someplace, he will probably be a significant asset to Iraq's future security...once he finds better companions. Not everything is as it first appears in Iraq.
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Michael Totten's excellent coverage of this event is also up and well worth reading.