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Law and Order, Tikrit: An MP Mission
Military.com  |  By Christian Lowe  |  January 28, 2008
TIKRIT, Iraq --- They call it the "sniper dance."

Youíre out in the open. There are houses all around you -- cover and concealment for enemy sharpshooters to plink off a U.S. Soldier.

Stand there, wait a few seconds, shift to the right -- then do it all over again.

"We donít want a sniper to get a good shot off on us," one Soldier says. "So we keep moving all the time."

Read more from Military.com's man in Iraq.

In this home region for the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the security that has only recently descended here is tenuous at best. With the Iraqi army largely pushed out to the surrounding towns and villages to help U.S. forces root out the most tenacious holdouts in other areas, the focus here is on building a durable police force that can provide security to the local population and at the same time keep the insurgency from sparking up again.

For the American Military Police units and the civilian advisors that help them achieve their mission it's a tall order. With corruption a part of everyday life here and a policing philosophy making the transition from being an instrument of oppression to a force that serves the community, putting the local police on the right track takes constant interaction and a deep reservoir of patience.

"Our motto is 'no free chicken'," said Staff Sgt. Joe Cline, a platoon sergeant with the 56th Military Police Company, who added that their main mission is to cut the Iraqi policeís dependence on the U.S. military.

Each of the platoons with the 56th Military Police Company -- which is comprised of Army reservists from a Arizona, California and Nevada -- is divided into smaller Police Transition Teams, called "PiTTs." Paired with civilian contractors drawn from police departments from across the country, the PiTT teams patrol the towns outside the sprawling Camp Speicher base just to the north of Tikrit, visiting police stations, meeting with their leaders and assessing what they need to keep cops on the beat.

At the Tikrit patrol station, MPs wanted to see if a shooting incident that occurred the previous day showed up on the stationís log books. After a furious series of mistranslations and fumbling through piles of papers, the Iraqi policeman said he didnít have the shooting -- which occurred just a block away -- on his books.

"That was reported at another station," the Iraqi policeman told the MPs.

Frustrated, the MPs looked at each other with dismay.

"One of the things we try to do is to get these guys talking to each other," said Staff Sgt. David Heath, a platoon sergeant with the 56th MPs. "Weíve had shooting incidents happen right out front that they didnít respond to."

Despite their lack of coordination with other stations and security forces in and around Tikrit, their presence is definitely felt throughout the area. Itís tough to pass a street corner in Tikrit that doesnít have some sort of police checkpoint. Pickup trucks bristling with machine guns and blue-shirted Iraqis storm through the city. You can even hear police sirens whining across town in pursuit of criminals and miscreants.

And thatís a big change for many of these Soldiers, who expected a hard fight when they trained for the deployment.

"ItĎs a lot better than what I thought it would be like," said Spec. Sadie Hagemann, 21, of Sheridan, Calif., whoís on her first deployment. "I didnít expect the IPs to be as active as they are."

But sometimes the mission of taking their hands off the reins of the IP clashes with the still simmering terrorist threat.

On Jan. 21, the MPs received a report that in the nearby town of Owja -- which is where Saddam Husseinís body is interred -- the entire Iraqi police force had quit en masse. This worried American military commanders, who thought the exodus was a sign that a major terrorist hit was in the works.

Suspicions were high as the MPs rolled out the next day, speeding past the understated tomb of Saddam, whose portrait bedecks the arch above its entryway. They donít like Owja, where many of the residentsí allegiances reportedly fall in the Baathist camp.

But after a round of hearty handshakes, cups of bitter Turkish coffee and an unhealthy round of chain smoking with the city police chief, Maj. Qusay Abdul Razaq, things were smoothed over.

"It was just a misunderstanding with the battalions," Razaq said, referring to the so-called Emergency Response Units paramilitary police, which conducted a large raid in Owja without informing the local police. "Everythingís okay now."

Minutes later, a squad of Soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division came into the chiefís office. Theyíd heard the same report of a mass exodus and were loaded for a fight with an enemy assault that never came.

Though all the Soldiers left the Owja police headquarters relieved that they didnít have to conduct an all-out assault, many were still suspicious that the underlying tension hadnít truly abated.

"I hate Owja," said Spec. Anthony Adamo, 21, of Tucson, Ariz., an MP with the 56th MP Company. "Thereís so many terrorists there that we canít pick up."

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