Monday, May 31, 2004
Mistake 5 – Disbanding the Police
Nevertheless, restoring police services would not have been a very difficult task; the personnel were there, the police stations were there, many had taken their cars with them. Yet, no attempt was made in that direction. The police force was simply disbanded by decree!
It was a gross error.
Saddam’s regime had politicized every establishment in Iraq, including kindergartens! Do you simply “abolish” all the institutions in a country as large as Iraq? Simply “wipe” everything and start anew?
Anyway, the police was disbanded; the American army patrols were not interested in Law & Order and were evidently preoccupied with their own safety!
Saddam had released all prisoners before the invasion. From Abu Ghraib alone, about 64000 people were released; none were political prisoners!
For months, Baghdad was dominated by gangs of thugs and criminals who went on a rampage of killings and kidnappings. The main streets were almost deserted. You could go across the usually very busy downtown and not meet a single car for a couple of miles!
For months, lawlessness reigned! It was common-place to hear explosions and gun-shots all day and all-night long. On average, we were hearing of about three break-ins, kidnappings or murders a day!
Gradually, life began to come back to the city as people had to go about their business, go to doctors, seek their livelihood, etc. Life, it seems, had to reassert itself! It was the presence of people on the streets and the willingness of some of them to jump to the rescue of people who yelled for help that brought some security back to the city. There was a curfew between 11pm and dawn. That too helped a bit. Local vigilance by people kept many neighborhoods relatively safe.
The “new police” began to emerge about that time. However, they too seemed to be quite concerned about their own safety and very rarely ventured out after criminals!
It was during that period that I lost a dear, life-long friend to lawlessness. He managed an amusement park and was going back from work around dusk in his small 20-year-old car. He was followed by two cars. We found the entry points of five bullets in his car; one got him in the head. People nearby rushed him to hospital but it was too late. He was not rich, he was not into politics, he had no enemies to speak of but he was killed. When someone went to the police station, they refused to go and have a look at the “scene of the crime” and demanded that the car be brought to them!!
The traffic police had also disappeared and there was no effort made at recalling them back into service. The occupation forces were determined to build a “new Iraq” with a brand new traffic police force! This task took several months to start as the administration had “more pressing” agenda on their minds! Meanwhile, Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million people and more than 40 miles across was left to its own devices!
With no electricity, and therefore no traffic signals and a 50% sudden increase in the number of cars, the traffic congestions (several months after the occupation) were simply impossible!
Teenage volunteers helped in some places to keep the traffic moving. Young boys of 13 or 14 were standing in the Iraqi summer sun at noon to direct traffic!
In evading the congestions, US military patrols had no regard to any basic traffic law!
To add insult to injury, the occupying army sealed off large areas of Baghdad, literally littered many streets with concrete blocks, blocking numerous main roads and at least two important bridges that linked the two sides of Baghdad. One would not have thought it was possible to surpass Saddam in this respect; apparently it was!
Today, more than a year later, traffic police are back in good numbers on the streets…but Baghdad remains a jungle for cars!