REPORTER: Thom Cookes
A heavily fortified training camp in the Jordanian desert, near the border with Iraq.
As night falls, the guards are waiting for the latest batch of recruits to be bussed in. These men have signed up for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. For the next eight weeks, they’ll be trained to become Iraqi policemen. Even here, just over the border in Jordan, they’re still targets for assassination, and their convoy of busses is escorted by heavily armed Jordanian troops.
SECURITY OFFICER, (Translation): I know you’re tired so I won’t talk for long. But we have with us Internal Security. They have instructions for you. Following these instructions will help the trainers and you will apply them at all times.
The cadets receive temporary ID cards and they sign a legal waiver that acknowledges they understand the risks of what they are doing.
SECURITY OFFICER 2, (Translation): As for prohibited things, sharp implements are banned. All types of drugs are prohibited. Cameras and cellular phones with cameras are totally banned.
After they have been fingerprinted, the recruits are body-searched and their bags are pulled apart. They are then led into the barracks for their first night in the camp and they receive an emotional welcome from the cadets already here.
CADETS, (Translation): Where are you from?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Ramadi!
JORDANIAN OFFICER, (Translation): Guys, stay with me here! Inside, stay in the line. You will be handed your sleeping gear. This chaos outside is your old colleagues. Don’t get out of the line. Stay in line.
GARY BULLARD, DIRECTOR, POLICE TRAINING CENTRE: I can’t think of many police in the world that have to face RPGs on a daily basis or incoming mortar rounds on a daily basis. They’re heroes in my mind, I mean, there’s no question. I mean, I respect each and every one of them. There isn’t many countries that I can think of where a police officer would be willing, as willing, to go into the environment that they are going into.
JOOST HILTERMANN, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: These are the poor who are desperate for work, and willing, even, to stand in long recruitment lines at the threat of being bombed – as has happened on numerous occasions – simply because not to do so would mean having no bread on the table for their families, and so they are quite desperate.
This remote desert camp is one of the largest police training colleges in the world. At any one time there are 3,000 Iraqi cadets living and training here, and by the end of this year, around 44,000 will have passed through the gates. The camp was built with US money three years ago as part of the Iraqi reconstruction effort. Now police officers from 18 different countries are here to provide the training.
JIM HAMMOND, DEP DIR, POLICE TRAINING CENTRE: If you ask me if I’d put this up against a Western-style academy, no, it couldn’t hold a cotton to it. But we are proud of what we turn out. We’ve seen the survival rate go up, we’ve built pride into these cadets. We realise that what we are generating here is not top cops in the sense that we realise we are in a transition phase. What we are trying to do now is build into the Iraqi police force the seeds of a first-rate police force that will evolve over the next few years.
Many of the cadets turn up here with only a plastic shopping bag, some have turned up with just the clothes they are wearing. After their first night, they receive uniforms and military haircuts. Then, it’s out on to the firing range.
REPORTER: They’re doing OK?
TRAINER: For the first time they’ve ever shot a hand gun, yes.
TRAINER, (Translation): Is that good?
TRAINER 2(Translation): No. Hopefully, you’ll improve in the afternoon. Just don’t let it out of your sight. You should concentrate on aiming. Next time, be gentle with the trigger. You’re like that. Take it easy. Steady grip.
MIKE, INSTRUCTOR: Say, out of a class of 125, we may have some with a background in military police, prior to coming here – in Iraq – and they’re pretty decent, but you get maybe one out of five. And the rest of them are pretty scared of the hand gun, and a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever shot, believe it or not – even coming from Iraq – so we’ve got to get them over the fear first.
MARIAM, (Translation): Is it the first time you’ve used a weapon?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Yes.
MARIAM, (Translation): How do you feel?
RECRUIT, (Translation): I was afraid of weapons at first but I did well in shooting training and now I’ve been selected as a sniper, a sniper for Falluja.
MARIAM, (Translation): Where are you located in Iraq?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Falluja. The Falluja area, in Anbar.
REPORTER: Are they both from Fallujah?
MARIAM: No. This one’s from Baghdad, this one’s from Fallujah.
MARIAM, (Translation): Do you feel you’ll be ready in two months?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Yes, God willing,
But the cadets’ optimism flies in the face of some truly appalling statistics regarding their survival rate. Many of these men will be killed on the job.
MIKE: Well, from the quotes that everybody talks about, one class every six months is eliminated by..
REPORTER: An entire class is about how many people?
MIKE: 1,500 people.
The training program has been running for three years but in recent months it’s been refocused on simply keeping the graduates alive.
JIM HAMMOND: When we began this, of course, we fully expected to lose 10% during the first few classes. Never did get quite that high, but, as you well know, there were a number being killed when they got back in almost group bombings. We’ve found that the death rate has dropped significantly. We’re each month getting more and more behind the curve. We’ve got a great survival rate now. We actually, several months ago, went to more practical application training with the theory that if we could teach them enough survival techniques for the first 90 days, they would get over the learning curve, and be able to protect themselves more. That’s exactly what’s happened.
REPORTER: Is that first 90 days, is that the most dangerous time for these guys?
JIM HAMMOND: It is. It’s the most critical. Just like for a young military recruit. The first few battles he’s engaged in, he becomes seasoned very quick, and the same thing happens with police.
The cadets are given phone cards that allow them to ring their families every few days. For some, this is the first time they’ve left home, let alone Iraq, and it’s hard to believe that they haven’t lied about their age.
Several cadets asked not to be filmed because, as far as their parents were concerned, they were looking for work in southern Iraq and not training for the most dangerous job in the country.
MARIAM (Translation): It’s your first time out of Iraq?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Yes, the first time.
MARIAM (Translation): And how is the experience?
RECRUIT, (Translation): It’s fine, good.
MARIAM, (Translation): Did you enjoy it here?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Yes I did, very much.
MARIAM (Translation): How long have you been here?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Two months and one week.
MARIAM (Translation): When do you go back?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Tomorrow, God willing.
MARIAM (Translation): Is it the first time away from your family?
RECRUIT, (Translation): Yes, the first time. It’s hard.
This group of cadets is learning a basic survival skill in Iraq – how to search a car without blowing yourself up.
MIKE: If you see any wires or a lever on the door, just press the door back. Don’t let the driver open the door if you see a wire. If you open the door, you’re dead. It’s that simple.
An inquiry last year by the US Government, which provides the bulk of the funding here, found serious flaws in the police training program. According to the report from the departments of State and Defence:
REPORT: “..there is little consensus on how to train Iraqi police. One exception is the universal agreement that the eight weeks devoted to the basic course is insufficient time to produce a capable policeman.”
The report also found that:
REPORT: “..too many recruits are marginally literate. Some show up for training with criminal records or physical handicaps. And some recruits, allegedly, are infiltrating insurgents.”
REPORTER: Does that worry you at all?
GARY BULLARD: I think the vetting process is a strong process. Do we have some people that possibly sympathise with some of the, you know, insurgents? Absolutely. I’m sure that occurs. And it is our goal to show them a better way.
This message was apparently yet to be received by these three new cadets who had just arrived from Ramadi. The US occupation force is spending hundreds of millions to train them as police, but as far as they’re concerned, the insurgents are fighting a legitimate battle.
RAMADI CADET (Translation): Any country in the world when it’s occupied by another country, has the right to defend its land and honour. This is a known thing across humanity. As humans, created by God, it’s the right to defend oneself. And we all feel the same. And resistance is legitimate all over the world. They originally came to Iraq promising us democracy, freedom and what have you… and to establish a state and so on, then they themselves say that it is occupation. It started as liberation, then turned into occupation. It’s contradictory. Maybe they’ve come for their own interests, I don’t know.
The motives of the cadets training here are also complicated. While some of the Sunni recruits may use this training to aid the insurgency, some Shia recruits end up as part of sectarian death squads. The Iraqi Interior Ministry, which controls the police force, is widely perceived to be stacked with Shia Muslim officials. It’s been accused of operating the death squads that target Sunni Iraqis.
JOOST HILTERMANN: Yeah, it seems that a dirty war has been taking place, whereby after nightfall, during curfew hours, police units – or these units that are dressed up as police and are driving police cars with all the markings and whatnot – are going around raiding Sunni Arab neighbourhoods, rounding people up – men, you know, of fighting age – and detaining them and a number of those end up as corpses, you know, in ditches. And so we have a serious problem here with what look like real death squads.
But at least, according to the director of the police training sector, it’s not yet been caught up in sectarian politics.
GARY BULLARD: They are here because It’s not that they are Shias, it’s not that they are Sunni or Kurds, they are here because they are Iraqis and really focussed on the fact that they are the ones who are going to make a difference if they really, truly want to have a safe and stable democratic Iraq. And they are Iraqis and Iraqis first, and that’s the trick.
After eight weeks, the cadets have completed their training and it’s time to return to Iraq.
GARY BULLARD: To all of you, the newest graduates of the Jordan International Police Training Centre, I congratulate you on a job well done.
After the graduation ceremony, reality sinks in. The cadets realise that this could be the last time that they see each other.
MARIAM (Translation): Why is everyone crying, so upset?
CADET, (Translation): Because you’re leaving? It’s because we’re parting company.
CADET 2, (Translation): We’re all friends, we’ve been here over two months. Parting company is difficult. We’re all fellow countrymen.
MARIAM (Translation): Are you happy to go back to Baghdad?
CADET 2, (Translation): Happy to return but not to part company.
MARIAM, (Translation): Will you be able to see each other in Iraq?
CADET 2, (Translation): God willing, we’ll call each other. If things stabilise, we’ll meet up in different provinces but not as things are now with all the terrorists there.
MARIAM (Translation): Your mission is very big. Do you feel you’ve received enough training?
CADET 2, (Translation): Yes, we’ve received enough training. And we thank all the officers who were training here.
MARIAM (Translation): Do you have fears about the big task ahead of you?
CADET 2, (Translation): Of course. The risks we face in Iraq as police officers are full-on, not like the risks to police in other countries.
MARIAM (Translation): What do you think might happen now?
CADET 2, (Translation): What can happen? If there is no government in our country, the bombings, murders and looting will continue until Iraq is totally finished. But with our efforts we can rebuild our country and make it stand on its feet like before. God willing.
As they leave, the cadets’ bags and bodies are searched one final time and they are handed a graduation certificate pause
CADET: Baghdad! Goodbye!
Just one week after I filmed these cadets, a suicide bomber struck outside the police station at Fallujah. This is where many of the newly graduated police were headed. At least 30 policemen were wounded and 15 were killed in the attack. According to local police, it was aimed at discouraging Sunni Iraqis from joining the force.
RAMADI CADET (Translation): We enlisted knowing it could entail being killed, but we have to sacrifice ourselves. We have to sacrifice ourselves so my family or Abu Muhammad’s or Hamid’s can survive. It’s so our children can have a better life than the one we are living with its pain and tragedy every hour, minute and second.
REPORTER/CAMERA: Thom Cookes
EDITOR: Nick O’Brien
PRODUCER: Amos Cohen
EP: Mike Carey