February 15, 2007
The Very Thin Blue Line


Iraqi police trainees in the Jordanian desert

Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

I'd heard about how Iraqi police were being trained in a camp in the Jordanian desert, and was fascinated by it. I thought it might provide a good opportunity to find out more about these guys ; they are so often just a statistical footnote to the daily news (" ... and in Falluja today, 23 Iraqi police recruits were killed in a suicide bomb attack ... ") Why would you sign up for what must be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world?

Even getting to and from the training base is life-threatening for them. After a bus-load of newly-graduated recruits was ambushed and massacred on their way back to Baghdad, the policy is now to fly them in and out from a nearby military airstrip. (One of the U.S. trainers also pointed out to me that the straight stretch of highway in front of the camp meant that they could all be evacuated in C130s if things got ugly, something they had clearly thought about.)

As it turned out, we were given pretty much free reign to talk to whoever we wanted to, with no restrictions, as is apparent from the story. This is very much a "warts and all" portrait of the Iraqi police, and the complicated allegiances that drive them. The cadets are surprisingly candid about how they feel about the U.S. occupation, with some from Anbar province explaining they understand the insurgent's position, and the right to resist.

Perhaps the most striking thing was that many of these recruits were so young and naive, on their first trip away from home, and this was just a big adventure for them. They clearly had little idea what they heading into, but were happy to speculate about it. And in the back of my mind, while talking to them, was the thought that many would be dead within 90 days. Getting accurate figures is very hard and controversial, but some of the better estimates I have seen are that more than 12,000 police alone have been killed since 2003.

- From reporter Thom Cookes.
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