Wednesday, August 22, 2007

OMV Sends: Operation Alljah

Sometime after 0200 Operation Alljah began in a middle-class neighborhood in northern Fallujah. The Marines of the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines occupied a police precinct and began a swarm or strategic blocking off of the streets, in order to control access both in and out of the neighborhood. That morning, by the time I arrived with the 5/10, a civil affairs unit out of Camp Lejeune, the 2/6 were firmly ensconced in the east side of the concrete precinct, the 5/10 took the west and the Iraqi Police seemed to have everything in control.

Since traveling north from Kuwait on an Army convoy, and crossing into Baghdad, and later Camp Fallujah, I had always heard stories of how bad, corrupt and unprofessional the Iraqi police is. "They smile at us because they know there's an IED planted ahead," said one platoon leader. An Iraqi interpreter said they were "not to be trusted", and troops in the Green Zone handled all security so they had little interaction with the Iraqi police and even fewer compliments.

That all changed when we were at the police precinct in Fallujah and a police officer blocked a suicide bomber from passing through the 2nd layer of security for screening potential recruits. Although the press reported 20 victims, there was in fact only one, the suicide bomber. Call me old-fashion, but when someone protects you, even inadvertently, I feel he's due a fresh benefit of the doubt, so I talked to a couple of police officers and recruits through the interpreter.

Most of the officers were from the neighborhood or Fallujah, which meant they were taking a great risk. The "bad guys" as the interpreter called them, often targeted the politicians, the businessmen and the police. Many officers wore ski-masks so as not to be recognized by someone who may have had issues with authority figures, and what figures they were. In their ill-fitting blue shirts, mismatched uniforms and barely any firepower, the Fallujah police were a Sunni version of the keystone cops.

Despite my perception of Iraqi Police, there was a line of over 300 men who wanted to join the auxiliary neighborhood watch program, with the aspiration of becoming one of those policemen. Marines from the 2/6 and 5/10 attempted to barter for the Fallujah Police t-shirts, but I didn't see any of the officers make the exchange (the last bid in earshot was $50 dollars, which represented a month's pay for some). The Iraqi army, many of whom were shia foreigners to the city, was better armed and, most felt, better trained, but the men of the Fallujah police force knew the terrain and gathered more valuable intelligence. Historically very insular, someone from Fallujah confided more in a fellow Fallujan than in any foreigner, American or otherwise. The police precinct showed promise, I learned that a police officer had uncovered information on insurgent activity that lead to an arrest.

Since their arrival, the infantrymen of the 2/6 had taken an RPG and some small arms fire. A young lieutenant told me an Iraqi police recruit, who was shot in the finger, proudly showed him the wound and told him he was happy to prove himself to the Marine. The lieutenant later remarked "He didn't have to go through that much trouble to prove himself," I thought about how much these current and future officers would have to face to make the city and concluded that maybe he did.

H/T to Maj Pain at One Marine's View.