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Baghdad's Police are Back on the Job

Baghdad's Police are Back on the Job

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Police in Iraq's capital returned to work in force Sunday, but there were few patrols on Baghdad's lawless streets as officers struggled to navigate a chaotic new order that had yet to determine salaries, responsibilities or even chain of command.

The verdict: In Baghdad, even some of the police don't feel safe yet.

Hundreds of officers milled about stations after the U.S.-led coalition issued a radio appeal for all officers in the four main police forces to return to work as of Sunday.

Although a smattering of police officers had returned to their jobs on their own initiative in the days after the Americans took Baghdad, Sunday was the first official day of work.

But while they surveyed looted offices and mangled patrol cars, few officers were seen on the beat. In a city where the law of the gun now prevails in most places, many of the mostly unarmed policemen said they didn't feel secure.

"You will probably notice that the citizens are respecting the American patrols more than the Iraqi patrols. That's because the Americans have weapons," said Col. Karim Sarhan, 47, cruising the streets in a white Nissan Maxima with police lights but no license plates.

Most Iraqis -- and many high-level U.S. military officials -- see law and order as the most urgent task of the still-to-be-formed new government. Until the streets are safe, they say, stores can't open, factories can't produce and children can't attend school.

But getting police to restore order among citizens who have long considered them enforcers of a repressive regime is a monumental task. Complicating matters, officers complained that the coalition appeared confused about their duties.

"Everybody is imposing himself as the commander. There is no organization," Sgt. Haider Jamal shouted at policemen, journalists and U.S. troops. "If you don't give me my salary, I'll become a looter."

Gen. Hamid Othman, the new Baghdad police chief, said he was still working on assignments and duties.

"Within two or three days, things will be normalized," he said. "Our goal is to achieve security and safety, in cooperation with Baghdad's citizens."

Philip Hall, a coalition liaison with the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, acknowledged the disarray but said police will soon be back in force.

"Today marks a very important start in resuming civilian life in Baghdad," Hall said. "We recognize that there is a very difficult security situation at the moment, and we therefore see an urgent need for the police force."

In Hillah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, Los Angeles Police Department officers from a reserve Marines unit trained about 20 Iraqi police officers Sunday. Soldiers in central Karbala began a four-week training program and reserve Marines with police experience in nearby Najaf made recommendations for training there, U.S. Central Command said.

In Baghdad, many officers reported for duty to the police academy. A fleet of Humvees filled with U.S. Military Police stood ready, but their commander, Col. Ted Spain, said joint patrols were still days away.

Coalition officials said all returning officers would receive a one-time emergency payment of $20 while payrolls were being reconstituted. The officers also will get pistols; no larger weapons will be allowed.

But the guard at the academy gate, 1st Sgt. Ibrahim Youssef, had a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder. He said the U.S. Military Police had told him it was OK -- because "a pistol is not enough to deal with the criminals."

Military police refused comment, but Hall said: "We'll be talking with them about that."

Around Baghdad, police stations were filled with officers surveying damage and discussing their fate. At the New Baghdad precinct, policemen debated who would pay them as they picked through looted offices.

"No patrols today," said Capt. Oweid Jabbar. "Maybe tomorrow."

A few patrols set out from the Traffic Police headquarters, where Saddam Hussein's portrait still stood with the motto: "God save Iraq and Saddam."

Maj. Gen. Kais Mohammed Naif, head of the traffic force, presided from a dusty desk in a looted office, his only other furniture a garish set of yellow couches. He estimated that 90 percent of his 1,100 officers returned Sunday.

Outside, an officer who wouldn't give his name said none of the police would obey the commander. "He was a (Baath) party member. That's why he was head of the traffic police," the officer murmured.

Indeed, patrols seemed largely disorganized. At one intersection, 10 officers directed traffic, but most motorists ignored them. The intersection was clogged in gridlock.

"Citizens do not respect our orders. They witnessed a change, and their concept is that this lawlessness is democracy," said Sarhan, the traffic police colonel. "This is chaos, not democracy."

Sameer Majid, 42, selling satellite dishes from his otherwise empty appliance shop, said he doesn't care who polices the streets as long as there is safety.

"Saddam Hussein cut off the hands of the thieves. There were no thieves," he said. He considered for a moment and shrugged, conceding: "There were also no satellite dishes."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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