GOT THEM IP BLUES |
January 30, 2007
GOT THEM IP BLUES
Name: SGT Roy Batty
Posting date: 1/30/07
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio
An old man with a thin white beard is asleep in the back of the pickup truck. He's wearing a terrycloth sweatsuit, brown, dirty, grease-smeared, emblazoned with the name of a Spanish soccer team. He looks pretty comfortable, curled up in a semi-fetal position, his shirt hiked up a bit over his little pot belly. Just taking a snooze in the warm golden January sunlight, hunkered down beneath the sides of the truck bed to avoid the slight chill beneath the afternoon's breeze. The only problem, of course, is that he is not asleep.
He has a small dent to the right of his forehead, and on the back of his head, just visible, is a very large hole, its edges splayed yellow with a hint of skull matter. Blood, dark red and thickly viscous, has flowed into a long pool that stretches down the entire length of the truck bed. Like all real blood, it looks very different from the red stuff you see by the gallon in the movies, and is thus somehow less...real? Is that the word? Back in The World, teenagers watch maniacs on silver screens slaughter people for fun. But in this back alley it is irrevocably real, and not fun at all.
I'm standing there with Denny, one of our IPLOs. We are remarking on the dead man to each other, using technical terms to dilute the more unsettling aspects of having to look at an executed grandparent lying on a metal floor.
"Can't have happened too long ago, the blood hasn't started to coagulate yet...."
"Yeah, but lividity is already setting in. Look at the purple bruises around his eyes."
"Oh, right. What do you think? 9 mil? Entry wound is pretty small, and the exit wound is not too big."
"Yeah. If it was an AK, the whole back of his head would be gone..."
"Yep, definitely a pistol."
The Iraqi cops hang back, behind us, next to the cement wall around their police station. They don't say much, an occasional word to one another muttered in Arabic. They look like a group of reform school boys waiting to see the principal. There may be a good reason they are so quiet. Perhaps it's because we are fairly damn certain they are the ones that murdered the old man.
Here's the deal. We were at one of our other IP stations, just a few blocks away, and got a call on the radio from "maneuver" that there had been a carjacking in our area. This would be the fourth one in a week, all right here in the mahallahs just north of Sadr City. All on Dynacorps trucks -- usually car carriers hauling uparmored SUVs to and from the various FOBs around Baghdad.
We had finished up our routine business at that police station and, as planned, came over to this one. As we pulled up, we noticed Grandpa dead in the police truck. The IPs seemed a little surprised to see us. They never know when we are going to show up, which is a good thing.
"What happened?" we ask.
"Oh, well, this is the driver of the car carrier that got jacked," they reply.
"Wow, that was quick."
IPs usually hate picking up dead guys. We've had arguments with them, usually in side alleyways at 2 a.m., about who is going to have to manhandle the newly discovered corpse and take it away. These guys must be really on the ball this time, to jet out to the crime scene and scoop up Mr. Hole-in-the-Head so quickly.
I feel sorry for him in a general sort of way, although that emotion has been hard to come by lately. He is the fifth or sixth dead guy I have come across in the last month or so. Still, he is someone's father, I'm sure; someone's grandfather, probably. Somewhere, a family will soon be wailing with grief. I don't know what possible threat this man could have posed to anyone, or why some scumbag felt inclined to blow his brains out the back of his head on this warm afternoon. I add the muted sorrow I feel for the man, and the undercurrent of resentment at whoever did it, to the dark whispering in the back of my skull.
It looks like he has been shot with a pistol at close range, although there is none of the gunpowder tattooing that would come from a point blank shot. Still, it's unusual that it would be a 9 mil. AK-47s are ubiquitous here, but pistols are in short supply. Except for the Iraqi Police, who carry and covet the black Glocks that we issue to them.
Grandpa is the second corpse we've come across from a carjacking that occurred in close proximity to Iraqi police. A couple of weeks ago it was a businessman, lying in the street right outside the Ministry of the Interior. We had just pulled turned the corner and, oops, there's a corpse in the road in front of us. It's disconcerting how quickly you get used to seeing that sight.
This particular street has a whole series of checkpoints on it, designed to keep street traffic away from the government compound. Nevertheless, there he was, his head ventilated and leaking what appeared to be sticky raspberry jam. We stopped and asked the IPs on the checkpoint what had happened. Oh, it was a carjacking. Someone stole his car. Right here? Oh yes, yes. Did you guys see it? Oh, sure, mistah, it was right in front of us. Did you shoot at the guys who did it? Oh, no, no. So you're telling me that a bunch of bad guys carjacked this dude five feet in front of your checkpoint, in broad daylight, stole his car, and somehow made it 500 meters down the street, past two other checkpoints, and nobody fired a single round at them? In a country where the police will empty a magazine of AK rounds at cars just to stop traffic?
Now Denny and I are leaning on the truckbed of the police pickup, looking at Grandpa, then at the IPs behind us. They don't make eye contact with us, suddenly enthralled with their pastel blue police shirts, or with something on the bottom of their shoes. Denny pulls out his digital camera and slowly starts taking pictures of the dead man, for his report to our higher headquarters. When he is finished, the IPs reluctantly move towards us. "We go now." "Ma-sahlam-ah." "Goodbye, mistah." And off they go, driving quickly away. Grandpa lolls around as they bump their way across the potholes, somehow still asleep despite the rough ride.
Denny goes inside the police station, along with my squad leader and the other IPLOs. They have questions for the police chief. I go back to the little cordon of HMMWVs and our huge ASV, sitting at the entrance. We have been increasing our security while out and about these days, after what happened in Karbala the other day.
You probably read about it, or saw it on CNN. A group of American soldiers, including at least one MP, were at a provincial meeting in Karbala. Supposedly a number of new SUVs pulled up with what appeared to be American soldiers inside, wearing something like ACU uniforms, flashing American ID cards. They were summarily waved into the compound by the IPs who were guarding the place. These apparent soldiers then threw a number of concussion grenades into the conference room and burst in, shooting everyone present. Then they kidnapped two of the American soldiers, who were found murdered shortly afterwards, just down the road, left in the SUVs.
Bottom line: five dead American soldiers, as well as some local ministers and businessmen. That's the story, anyway. Since every American who was there was killed, what really happened is known only to the IPs that were present, and somehow they all miraculously escaped harm. Personally, I think the IPs just turned on them.
In any case, we are changing things up a lot, in an attempt to make sure that the same thing doesn't happen to us. Just the thing for a paranoid ex-Marine.
I'm searching everyone who comes into the joint. There is a steady stream of civilians coming into the compound for various legal reasons, and, more worrisome, a whole bunch of IPs in civilian clothes. Now, as any Iraqi vet will tell you, there is not really a standard uniform for the Iraqi Police, other than a vaguely blue shirt. That's it. No badge. No nothing. Sometimes just a blue collar peeking out above a jacket. Apparently even that is too stringent a dress code for some of these guys, and we have seen our fair share of dudes in jeans and a kaffiyah coming around the corner, brandishing an AK. Hey, whaz up, mistah. Just goin' to work.
Amazingly, these guys take umbrage when I stop them, and demand some ID, and pat them down. You would have thought that with the security situation the way it is in Iraq, at least the police would understand when we set up some basic procedures. But no. Every other guy protests when I go to stop him: "IP, IP, mistah. No, no." Some of the ID cards are ancient versions which are no longer issued. Many are expired. Occasionally they have no police identification at all. The cops tell me they left them at home, or forgot them, or something equally asinine. They are all armed, usually with concealed Glock 9 millimeters.
I've also started searching the civilian cars that come into the compound, and this evokes the same indignant response. Such was the case with Starsky and Hutch.
I come trudging back to our little checkpoint at the entrance, just as a small silver compact car weaves its way through the Haskell barriers. Inside are two Iraqi guys, wearing civilian clothes. The driver is older, with a big Saddam moustache. His passenger is a kid -- looks like a teenager. Starsky, the older one, is wearing the tan suit jacket that seems to be the new fashion rage among IPs since Saddam's execution. Hutch is wearing a jogging suit, which is very common for younger Iraqi men.
My driver, already on guard, mentions that they had just come in a few minutes ago, and he had checked the car and found nothing. They had stayed for a few minutes, then left, and now were coming back inside for some reason.
"Indak heiweyah?" I ask Starsky. Do you have ID?
Starsky mumbles something in indignant Arabic, and finally produces an ancient yellow IP badge, the kind issued a couple of years ago, long since obsolete. Still, not that unusual, for this station anyway.
I am about to let them go when I spot a bit of wire sticking out from a black jacket on the backseat of the little Daewoo Crown sedan. I open the back door, move the jacket, and find two folding-stock AK-47s underneath. All of the Kalashnikovs that belong to the IP station have wooden stocks on them, and painted ID numbers on those stocks. These AKs are not standard issue. Not to mention that you are not supposed to have them in a civilian car, while wearing civilian clothes.
I ask Hutch, the young guy, if he has ID. Hutch decides to get mouthy with the big, shaved-head infidel who is blocking his way. It becomes apparent that he doesn't have any ID. I've never seen him before. In fact, I've never seen either of these jokers before, and with the discovery of the AKs, I'm not feeling very charitable.
Get out of the car, asshole.
Starsky gets out easily enough, with a bit of an anxious grin beneath his moustache, but Hutch continues to talk shit, moving slowly. I tell him I am going to search him -- "Taftish!" -- and motion for him to turn around and raise his arms.
Hutch spins around on me as soon as I touch his side. He clearly doesn't want to be searched, and he's not going to cooperate.
Fine with me. I slam his body back around, up against the side of the sedan, and I'm not terribly gentle about it. Grandpa's face is still a sharp image in my head, his grizzled white beard speckled with blood. You guys might be badasses with unarmed senior citizens, but I promise you, it will not be so easy with me. My driver moves behind me, his M4 coming up to cover Starsky in case he gets stupid, too.
Hutch is still not done. I go to pat down his arm, and he brings it back at me, trying to pop me with his elbow. Now, I'm 6 foot 3, I weigh 235 pounds, and I'm wearing an additional 60 pounds worth of assault rifle, grenades, ammo and body armor. He weighs maybe a buck fifty soaking wet. When I bounce his head off the hood of the car it sounds like a rifle shot. I slam his arms out to the sides of his head on the hood, and kick his legs out wide to the side with the same degree of tact and diplomacy.
Hutch gets the point.
As soon as I frisk his torso, I find out why he doesn't want to get searched. Hidden up underneath his running jacket there is an assault vest filled with loaded AK-47 magazines. He's got four of the damn things under there, 30 rounds a piece in each mag. Call me paranoid, but I'm really curious as to why these guys are trying to sneak in here with over 120 rounds of AK ammo and two hidden assault rifles.
The earpiece to my tactical radio buzzes urgently. It's my squad leader. Apparently he is watching this little piece of drama from somewhere around the station house, probably up on the roof.
"Whoa, whoa, SGT Batty, just search him, don't beat 'im up! Gotta watch that temper, jarhead!"
I turn to my right, facing the IP station, and reach up with one hand to key the mic. The other hand is securely around Hutch's neck. He ain't going nowhere.
"Hey, Sarn't, this guy is trying to come in here in civilian clothes, in a civilian car, with two hidden AKs, and an assault vest full of mags under his clothes. And no fuckin' ID card. And then he wants to get stupid about it."
The radio is silent for a minute. Apparently the news has set my squad leader back a bit. Meanwhile, a small crowd of uniformed IPs are swarming out of the front gate of the station, and coming towards us.
"Well, what are the numbers on the stock of the AKs? Maybe they are detectives," says SSG H. in my ear.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Sarn't. They're folding-stock AKs, hidden in the back. Not issued IP weapons."
The crowd of IPs have reached us. The largest one, one of the "officers" is pointing at Starsky and Hutch. "IP! IP!" Some of the guys from our trucks have dismounted, and are keeping them back.
"Ummm, okay. I'm coming down. I'll bring a translator; see if we can figure out what is going on." My squad leader clicks off.
Some of the IPLOs join the crowd, and eventually my squad leader and platoon sergeant also join us, along with their translators, and the whole crowd of Iraqi cops starts doing the usual Arab argument act, with stiff-armed gestures and lots of loud gibberish. It's a regular little fiasco.
Eventually it all boils down to this: Starsky and Hutch are the bodyguards of one of the IP majors, although that major is not here today. They drive him around in a civilian car to blend in. The officers from the IP station vouch for them, so they are allowed in.
As usual, several key questions never get answered. Where did the AKs come from? Why are the guys here in the first place? Why does Hutch not have any form of police ID? And why are they trying to come in here, armed to the teeth, if the major is not even here?
This illustrates a significant problem we have with the police in Iraq. What happens if they do something improper, or illegal? Since Iraq is now a sovereign country, we don't have any real authority over them. If Starsky and Hutch did do something illegal, all we could do is detain them and hand them over to their own guys. Who will promptly let them go.
Which is what happens this time. Starsky and Hutch drive off in their silver Daewoo, Hutch glaring resentfully at me in the rear view mirror as they go. I hope, at the very least, that the message has gotten out, not to mess around with the Americans, or at least not with the big, tattooed one. The LT and my squad leader congratulate me on the catch, and tell me that I am definitely the guy for the front door job. You better believe I will continue to be aggressive on the checkpoint.
The next day we are back at the same station, and the saga of the carjacking continues. Word comes from Dynacorps that the vehicles stolen from Grandpa's car carrier were uparmored SUVs, coincidentally the same kind of vehicle that was supposedly used in the hit in Karbala. Seems like the carjackers in this area have been specifically targeting them.
These particular SUVs were being transported back to Kuwait, since they were inoperable for various reasons. As soon as we get to the IP station, lo and behold, we are told that the IPs have located the missing SUVs. They are in the junkyard of a local tow truck company. The same tow truck company that contracts for their station. There is, conveniently, no word on how the SUVs got in the junkyard, or where they were found. Nada.
We mount a quick little raid on the junkyard, in case it is a trap. It's not, and we quickly locate the SUVs, since they are the only torched vehicles in the place. Yep, they're completely gutted, a total loss.
Sounds like someone figured out that they didn't work, and decided to torch them to destroy any evidence. And then gave them back to us, so as to reap some kudos for their investigative efforts.
After we leave the IP station, having documented the VIN numbers on the trucks, we get a weird call from our TOC. Somehow they have information that a driver from one of the earlier carjackings is being secretly held in the detention cell of our IP station. Soooo, we go back to our station, and try to find the guy. Who isn't there.
So what does it all mean? What's the point of this long story? Well, the Administration, and the Iraqi government, are putting a lot of emphasis on the Iraqi security forces being able to take over and run the country. Prime Minister Al-Maliki said last week that, properly equipped, his police forces could assume complete control of the country in the next three months.
Problem is, the type of issues that we are dealing with day to day, as just described, are not uncommon -- quite the opposite. They are de rigeur for operating with the Iraqi police forces. Keep in mind, this is after four years of training and equipping these guys. At best, the Iraqi police are corrupt and incompetent. At worse, they are one big criminal gang, and outright insurgents to boot.
I keep reading news reports that talk about how the Mehdi Army has "infiltrated" the Ministry of the Interior and all of the police agencies. "Infiltrate" is such an evocative word, bringing to mind images of dark clad guerillas scaling chain link fences in the middle of the night. That simply isn't the case. These guys have not surreptitiously snuck into the MOI. They are not hiding, or operating clandestinely, whispering quietly to each other in secret meetings after work. They've been outright hired by their buddies, particularly after the Shia gained control of the Iraqi government. Every IP station I have been in has Shia and Mahdi Army propaganda posters openly displayed inside it. They are not working to bring down the system. They are the system.
These are our buddies, our comrades-in-arms, with whom we are supposed to bring Jeffersonian democracy and security to this wonderful country. This is the hope to which our President is pinning the success of his plans. To tell you the truth, I don't think our IPs know it, or are particularly worried.
They are too busy washing Grandpa's brains out of the back of their pickup truck.