Wielding Guns and Handcuffs,
Women Join Iraq Police
By Matthew Green
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Whipping out her handgun and slamming a magazine into the grip, 20-year-old Hadeel Alwan can't wait to start catching criminals. "My biggest wish is to destroy terrorism," said Alwan, one of the youngest of Iraq's new women police recruits. "I want to go out on the streets and do everything a man does." Battling a raging insurgency and an explosion of violent crime since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has started hiring women police officers for the first time in decades.
Like the men, they face the risk of suicide car bombs, attacks by heavily armed militants on police stations and death threats for cooperating with U.S.-trained forces. But they must also tackle prejudice from more conservative Iraqis who think police work is man's work, a throwback to years of male domination of the security services under Saddam. "Some of my friends make fun of me," said Alwan. "They ask me if I'm afraid, and they tell me it's not a woman's job," she said, speaking after a practice session with her Glock 19 pistol at Baghdad's police academy. "I can't get into a debate with them, because they've got a different mindset."
As recruits fired pistols at a range, a series of blasts echoed across Baghdad -- a reminder of the bombings and other attacks that have killed at least 800 police officers over the past year. Iraq may be one of the most dangerous places for crime fighters, but Alwan, who is not married, said her relatives encouraged her to pursue her dream despite their fears. "They worry about me, especially when they hear about explosions," she said.
U.S. army trainers say the women can feel intimidated by male instructors, but often turn out to be as tough as the men when it comes to using truncheons and restraining suspects. "Next week we have defensive tactics. We teach them how to use the handcuffs and batons," said U.S. Army Sgt. Carmecia Rodriguez, 22, from Augusta, Georgia. "That'll get interesting."
Iraq has not hired women recruits since the force experimented with the idea in the 1960s, according to senior officers, but that changed with the fall of Saddam. The U.S.-led administration, which handed powers to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, encouraged the police to start employing women when it began training the force, notorious for corruption and human rights abuses under Saddam.
About 115 women recruits have passed through the academy since U.S. forces took control of training after last year's invasion, keeping their 1,200 male counterparts on their toes. "They shoot better than some of the guys," said U.S. Army Spc. David Dunn, 26, from Buffalo, New York. "A lot of the females are kind of intimidated by the weapon, so they're more open minded to listening to what we've got to say," he said, after teaching a handgun class.
Women have traditionally played a more prominent role in Iraq's work force than in many more conservative Muslim cultures, but many women say they feel under more pressure to keep a low profile since the invasion. Crime is much worse now that Saddam's oppressive rule is over, while a growth in the kind of Islamic radicalism he kept in check has left many women exposed to the risk of harassment if they venture out unaccompanied by a man. Preparing to impose law and order on the streets of Baghdad, women recruits brush such worries aside. They learn the same skills as men during the eight-week basic training course, which has been kept brief so Iraq can deploy officers as fast as possible to combat the insurgency. Clad in the same kind of light blue shirts and dark blue trousers worn by Iraq's male police recruits, the women do nevertheless enjoy some differences in dress. Some wear blue headscarves instead of regulation baseball caps.
Like the men, many women have signed up for the salary -- about $140 a month -- seizing a chance to provide for their families in an economy ravaged by war and years of sanctions. "Iraqi women are known for being strong," said Batool Mohammed-Sayid, 35, whose husband was killed in the 1991 Gulf War by a U.S. missile, leaving her to provide for five children. "I can go back home, cook, clean and spend time with my family, and I won't feel tired if I come back here tomorrow."
Privately, top police officers say it would be difficult to deploy women to the sharp end of operations given conservative attitudes among some Iraqi men, although all police officers in Iraq face the risk of attack. "In the civilized world, there are always female police officers," said Brig. Hussein Mehdi Juma, director of the police academy. "They go out on patrol, but we don't think it's suitable for them to get involved in gunfights." For now, ambitious women officers like 25-year-old Suad Hussein will have to be content with the safer side of duty. "I wish I was going out on the streets, but for the moment I've been left in the courtroom," she said.
Source: Reuters, July 11 2004
Iraq: Female Police Officers
Challenge Themselves And Society
By Valentinas Mite
Iraqi women are slowly making inroads into the country's public life. Several women serve as ministers or as minor officials in the interim government. Others, however, are choosing more unconventional occupations such as serving in the country’s security services. Female police officers say they not only want to serve their country but to challenge themselves and Iraqi society.
Baghdad, 8 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Twenty-four-year-old Hajear and her sister Sarah, 26, are police officers in Iraq. They say they want to serve as role models for other Iraqi women who are used to working modestly in the home. Hajear and Sarah arrived at the Al-Khadra police station in northern Baghdad just five days ago, after finishing a two-month training course. They wear blue Iraqi police uniforms and carry guns. Their faces are not covered, but they do wear Muslim head scarves. The sisters constantly smile and laugh. They are two of some 300 women serving on the Baghdad police force.
Hajear says her family was always liberal, opposed Saddam Hussein's regime, and encouraged her and Sarah to pursue their dreams of becoming police officers. Now, however, when danger seems to lurk around every corner, the family is afraid for the sisters' lives. "My family encouraged me to be a police officer and to be an example of an Iraqi woman as a policewoman,” Hajear says. “They are afraid when I leave home and come back, but I was trained how to protect myself. I am not afraid."
Sarah also says she is not afraid of being killed in the line of duty. She says everyone has his or her own destiny and should meet it without fear. She says she does not plan to die but is ready to fight and continue with her career. One day, she says, she hopes to become a police chief. "I would like to be a director of a police station or something higher in the police force,” Sarah says. “I love this field of activity. I like this kind of danger. I love to be a responsible person and fight crime."
Sarah says she is ready to challenge a society run by men, to prove that women are equals. "Women had pressure on them, and [men] would never let [a woman] serve in the police. Now, we have [female government] ministers. With God's help, we are police officers. Maybe in the future, I will be president," Sarah says.
Women are almost invisible on the streets of the capital Baghdad. The men say this is because of security concerns, that they are trying to protect them. Many women dispute this, however, saying men in Iraq have always been inclined to keep their wives and sisters locked up at home. All shopkeepers in Baghdad are men or boys. Men sell newspapers. Men sell tea. Men drive cars. Men argue about politics in the cafes. Men preach the sermons in the mosques. Men fight and kill. Men are kidnappers and men are being kidnapped.
Hajear says Iraq needs "female brains to make the country really different." She says the Americans in Iraq pushed the idea that women should be allowed to serve as police officers. "They trained us, they provided with psychological support," Hajear says. "So here we are, to break the old customs of our society and old beliefs that women are not good enough for public jobs.”
"We want to break this rule,” Hajear says. “We want to prove to them that we are like men, that women are the same as men. Before [the war], women were ignored, but maybe now the time has come when we can break this rule and prove the opposite." Hajear says she hopes the next generation of Iraqis will be different. "We know that in the U.S. Army, women can become generals. We would also like to be as they are," she says. "Now, we live without freedom, but we hope we will have it."
Senior Lieutenant Farid Khalil of the Al-Khadra police station says the concept of female police officers represents a big challenge to Iraqi society. He says the sisters are "damned brave to join the police in a society where people throw black paint at advertisements picturing females." He says the majority of Iraqis are conservative and think police work is not for women because it contradicts old perceptions of feminine modesty. "The society doesn't accept [women] because our people are backward and our people do not move together with time,” Khalil says. “Our people think it is shameful for women to be soldiers or police officers."
Many policemen say they have never seen female officers, though, and that they will "observe this experiment with interest." An officer named Muhammad says the sisters are newcomers and are learning how to do police paperwork. "Maybe later, we will use them as agents or traps to lure male criminals," he says. Another policeman, Muthana, says the two sisters have already learned a lot. They know how to use rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs, and they know how to fire their pistols and handcuff criminal suspects.
Asked if they are riding on patrols, Muthana says the women are not being assigned such duties quite yet. "It is completely beyond the wildest imagination to have a female driving a patrol car," Muthana says. "Our society will not accept it."
Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 8 2004
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