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Fresh Iraqi police carefully cultivated at Jordan training academy

MOAQQAR, Jordan—No signs advertise the police academy that sits in a barren expanse of the eastern Jordanian desert. Local journalists don't write about it. The guards who work there can't talk about it.

Academy officials say the anonymity protects the hundreds of Iraqi police recruits who leave the 450-acre sanctuary to face "the toughest law-enforcement job in the world." Each fresh-faced recruit has a target on his back once he returns to Iraq, where more than 350 officers have been killed in the past year for cooperating with occupation authorities.

Neither the students nor the instructors at the $100 million Jordan International Police Training Center like to dwell on the dangers. Instead, a day's visit finds recruits focusing on the practicalities of vehicle searches or interview techniques. They have eight weeks to absorb what American police recruits take six months or more to learn.

But the risks aren't far out of mind.

"Sometimes you're teaching a certain subject and it hits you that you may not be looking at these same faces a year from now," said Larry Hahn, a Texas instructor who spent years as a federal narcotics agent in Asia. "It grabs you. It makes you think. It touches you. They understand what they face when they go back, but they choose to stay."

The center's goal is to create 32,000 officers in two years, so instructors from around the world teach what they can in two months and pray it sticks. Ann Bertucci, a former Illinois police officer who's a spokeswoman for the school, points out that the curriculum has worked for fledgling police forces in many other countries.

"When you're dealing with people who grew up under a dictatorship, they've never learned how police treat people without abusing them," Bertucci said, explaining the center's emphasis on human rights. "They understand democracy as being lawlessness. But most of them are ready to learn."

The recruits are a lively bunch, with hands shooting into the air to answer questions from their teachers. One recent class focused on the role of female officers, a contentious subject for Iraqis unaccustomed to Muslim women working outside the home, much less patting down suspects or conducting raids. The Jordanian academy has yet to train women, though lodging is ready for them.

"The job of the female officer is exactly the same as the male's," lectured Damian Threader, the British detective who was teaching the class. "She drives a patrol car and there are times when she works on her own, possibly even at night."

The idea brought guffaws from many recruits. Some said they'd welcome women on the force, though their smirks hinted at thoughts of snug uniforms on female frames rather than the virtues of gender equality.

Only one recruit, 39-year-old Reaad al Janaby, dared to challenge his colleagues.

"Why can't we believe that women can be officers?" Janaby, a father of six from Baghdad, asked his fellow students. "In the new Iraq, we should be willing to have this. What we need is progress."

So far, 964 officers have graduated, and another 1,941 are now on campus. The center is part of a $1 billion initiative that includes two smaller academies in Iraq. With training, transportation, lodging and food, the cost per recruit is about $25,000.

Guerrilla attacks aren't the only obstacle the new officers will face.

Ethnic and sectarian tension has erupted even among the recruits in Jordan. On the eve of an Islamic holiday three weeks ago, hundreds of recruits hurled rocks at one another in a clash between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Bertucci said such incidents were rare and quickly quelled.

There's also the risk of Iraqis loyal to former President Saddam Hussein slipping into the recruits' ranks.

On Sunday, a group of young recruits lounged on a basketball court, clapping as they chanted a patriotic song that praises "Abu Hala," a moniker widely used for Saddam. A Jordanian guard whispered that such brazen outbursts often went unnoticed by the English-speaking staff at the center.

Bertucci said only a few students had been kicked out of the program for intimidation or fighting.

For the most part, the recruits said they were eager to become officers, and that they hoped their presence would hasten independence and bring security to a democratic Iraq.

"We are away from our country now, but our aim is to get back and serve our country, regardless of sects and beliefs," said Moatez Kadhim, a 21-year-old recruit from Kirkuk. "Since I was a child, I wanted to be a police officer. I still do, even though it's not an easy job in these difficult times full of danger."

Gunfire crackled and smoke rose from paper targets during one unit's first day at the firing range. Grixbie Stephens, wearing an Arab headdress and sunglasses to fend off a sandstorm, gauged the results with a no-nonsense demeanor.

A 27-year veteran of the Philadelphia police, Stephens acknowledged his reputation as a tough teacher. But his steely gaze softened when he described his hopes of keeping his young students alive in what will be their toughest lesson yet: going home.

"The defining moment for me is graduation, when we send a thousand of them back to Baghdad," Stephens said. "If these guys listen to the little, subtle things I teach them, it may give them that split second to reload in a firefight. That makes the difference in your going home to dinner or not."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ+POLICE


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