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Iraqi recruits train to survive Samarra

For some, having police job is matter of survival, too

By Arwa Damon

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Civil Unrest
Crime, Law and Justice

TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- "Ready! Take position! Fire 10 rounds!"

The smell of gunpowder hangs in the air as Iraqi police recruits train -- some for a second time around -- to patrol the restless city of Samarra.

Many of these men are former Iraqi Army soldiers or had been officers in the Samarra police force that fell apart last November.

This time, the U.S. military hopes the recruits they are training at a camp in Tikrit will stand their ground with renewed confidence in their abilities.

With that in mind, recruits are learning survival skills -- movement techniques, how to aim, and the finer details of police tactics.

U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces stormed Samarra in early October 2004, an operation deemed a success by American military commanders and the provisional Iraqi government.

Despite that October offensive in this city of about 250,000 people, insurgents continue to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Although Samarra is predominately Sunni Arab, it is home to one of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam. Tribal law, not governmental, is the rule here.

Because of that, one of the greatest challenges in stabilizing Samarra is putting together an efficient police force. Tribal loyalties have a tendency to override the call of duty.

'Tired of all the crime'

Recruit Farouk Amid, who was a member of the Samarra police force that crumbled last fall, smiles sheepishly as he readies his weapon.

"This time will be different," he says. "Now we will have full-blown training. And also, now, the people of Samarra want a police force, they are tired of all the crime."

Crime is what these men will be fighting -- many of them admit they do not feel equipped to fight terrorism. They say they are not necessarily against the "resistance," but think it's time to stop violence in Samarra.

And for most, joining the police force is one of the very few options they have.

Rassim Khayed Hussein, a 38-year-old father of nine and former construction worker, says the only way he could put food on his family's table was to join the police. He's been with the Samarra force for eight months, but says he's done little but sit in his assigned station.

"Every occupied nation is going to have an insurgency. We (the police) can't use force anymore, we have to use rationale and experience," he says. "It's all about the relationship (between police and insurgents). If you are kind to someone, they will be kind back; if you are strong, they will resist."

Little faith in Shiite alliance

Like many of the mostly Sunni men here, Hussein did not vote. In his opinion, it won't be the newly elected government that will turn the tide in Samarra -- it will be communication between the police force and the residents.

"You bring a piece of paper and say mark this. This is not freedom, this is not democracy," Hussein says. "We did not have any information about the candidates. Nothing against Allawi and the others, but something that comes with force does not have a positive impact."

Most of those in Samarra who did vote cast their ballots for U.S.-backed interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's list, or alliance.

One of the men in a group of trainees standing around watching target practices whispers, "A religious Shiite list won't help us."

The reference is to the United Iraqi Alliance, backed by influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, that won 140 of the 275 seats of the transitional governing council in Iraq's January 30 elections.

Lt. Mohammad Housson Ali, a young single man, is more outspoken. "From this government, there will only be words, only ink on paper. Don't say the Shiite list, say the Iranian list. They were all backed by Iran.

"Iran is going to take the wealth of Iraq," he says. "And there is going to be a civil war between the Shia and the Sunnis. That's what is going to happen."

Taking a more optimistic view, another recruit, who asked to remain unnamed, says he has hope that things will change for the better, even though Allawi's list did not do as well as he wanted.

"We have to work hand-in-hand to have a democratic leadership," he says. "After all, it's who the country voted for."

These men graduated on Febuary 17 and took up their positions in Samarra two days later. U.S. military commanders say that of the 267 policemen trained in this class, a little more than 200 reported to duty.

"It is not the people of Samarra who destroyed the city. What they want is obvious, they want the occupation to leave. We are not working with the Americans. We are working for our city," Ali says.

"Trust me, all of Samarra refuses the occupation 100 percent and if it does not end soon, all Samarra will become a resistance." For now, he says, he and his fellow police officers "are going to try and calm down the people."

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