Friday, October 24, 2003

"We want our rights"

I was chatting with a taxi driver yesterday morning going to work. He turned out to be a member of the new and promising Iraqi Police (IP). He was telling me about a bloody encounter they had the other night with a gang during the curfew hours. A colleague of his was killed in the fight, so his boss gave them a day off.

I have to mention that most Iraqis work as taxi drivers on their spare time to get extra dough. This guy was no exception. Regular Baghdadi taxis are either colored yellow, or white and orange (most of them are 80's models of Toyota Crowns, Coronas, Datsuns, and Volkswagens). Part time taxis 'khussusi' could be anything from a 1975 Peugeot to a 1990 Toyota.

You shouldn't be surprised to find college graduates, postgraduate students, engineers, and university proffessors working 'khusussi'. It was impossible to depend on the salary the government gave you. So this was the main means of earning more money. Of course salaries were raised drastically the last few months. But this was still a reliable and widespread method of making more money. The result is that its very easy to hire a cab anytime and anywhere in the city. Taxi fares are relatively higher than before, excuses for this are long queues at petrol stations, or traffic jams. Cabs don't use counters so you have to bargain the driver for an acceptable fare.

Anyway, back to my driver. He was describing the fight to me; The gang were in a black BMW (very fashionable among gangs these days). 4 of them. The police patrol ordered them to stop by loud speakers. The gang tried to flee, and opened fire from their kalashnikovs on the two car police patrol. A policeman was injured. The patrol returned heavy fire and hit one of their tires. After a small chase the gang stopped and surrendered. My driver told me that while they were approaching the criminals, they blurted "Don't touch us", "We want our rights!", "Promise you won't hurt us!". Of course that was too much to ask. They had just shot and killed a police officer. I told my driver that I hope they beat the shit out of them. He relieved me by answering yes.

The whole point of this anecdote is:

1-The new IP and traffic police are doing a great and wonderful job. Iraqis used to describe policemen as lazy, corrupt, and unreliable. Now they are welcomed with cheers by Iraqis everywhere they go. They are efficiently protecting schools, colleges, banks, and public buildings. They are being trained and briefed daily by the coalition on modern police methods, effective communication, and human rights. I'm sure the coalition would be at loss if the IP weren't around. They are giving enormous sacrifices daily. They are a huge part of what makes me optimistic about Iraqs future. I salute them wherever I see them.

2-What we need instead of peacekeeping forces (Yes, I mean Turkey), or extra coalition deployments is MORE Iraqi police. There are about 70 thousand of them now. 16 thousand police in Baghdad alone. Where Baghdad used to have at least 50 thousand prior to the war. We don't need to send new police recruits to Hungary or Jordan for training. We need them now on the streets.

3-On several occasions police officers have been complaining that they work hard to capture criminals and the next day the Americans simply release them. Many conspiracy theories are circulating in the country because of these actions. Some people are saying that the Americans are deliberately encouraging crime and unrest in the city, to provide an excuse that the security situation is still bad and that they are still needed. However, the explanation for these acts is very simple. We do not have enough jails to accomodate a large number of criminals. Hundreds of which are arrested daily. We need more jails opened, and we need the CPA to trust Iraqi police more to handle the situation. In my opinion they are qualified to do so.

4-The death penalty should return and be implemented immediately. This isn't an issue of morals, human rights, and ethics..blah, blah, blah. We need it badly to deter criminals, terrorists and gangs. Iraqis were horrified when Bremer abolished the death penalty. That may be possible in the US or Europe, but in Iraq the results would be devastating. A hundred thousand dangerous criminals released by the regime before the war are loose on the streets killing innocent people, abducting children, women, and businessmen, carrying out daily armed robberies, and carjackings (an average of 20 carjacking incidents occur in Baghdad daily). And since those criminals know they won't be executed for it, they act extremely. Hence your regular murderer kills a policeman and then asks for his rights. Killing a person remorselessly in Iraq has become so easy because of this. The necessity and the consequences of reactivating the death penalty cannot be underestimated to resolve the security problems. Crime will simply diminish today if say a hundred deadly criminals were hanged publicly. This may sound barbaric to people in the west, but in Iraq its a MUST to put an end to the chaos. So we can safely move on to reconstruction.