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.
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
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.