The day after militants in Iraq launched coordinated pre-dawn attacks on Baghdad checkpoints, federal police and Iraqi soldiers who work at some of those checkpoints described their fear of attack and a lack of basic support they believe is weakening security.
"I haven't slept for three days," said an Iraqi soldier at a checkpoint in the Ghadeer neighborhood of east Baghdad who got off duty just 10 minutes before his post was attacked on Monday.
The soldier, who asked to be called Haider rather than his real name for fear of punishment, walked with a limp. He said he was shot in the leg on Saturday by a gunman who fired at him from a passing car as he was leaving the checkpoint.
How Haidar's colleagues described the attack
Haidar said he left his post just minutes before it was attacked at about 4:15 Monday morning. His colleagues told him that two men dressed in the orange jumpsuits used by municipality workers got out of a white Camry and walked toward the checkpoint.
“They were carrying MP-5s and silencers – they walked towards them and started shooting,” he said after being called over to another checkpoint to speak with the Monitor. Two policemen shot in the head were killed, while two others were wounded, including one who opened fire with his own rifle after being shot three times in the leg. The MP-5 is a German-made submachine gun.
One of the gunman dropped his weapon while running for the car and the gun is now in police custody, said Haidar.
Why half the security forces on duty don't show up
At the checkpoint where Haidar was speaking, federal policemen and a soldier described a system in which at any one time, half of the security forces who were supposed to be on duty were absent.
A hot wind and dust whipped through their checkpoint as trucks and taxis rumbled by the four-lane highway. On a sheet of plywood that served as a table, a makeshift cup made from a cut-off plastic water bottle held a few shards of ice.
Katham, a federal policemen at the checkpoint, said that four policemen and soldiers were supposed to be on duty at the checkpoint at any given time, but that only two had come to work. He also said that a rotating team of 12 men were supposed to work the checkpoint, but that the team now has only six members.
Why? Graft, according to Katham and his colleagues, who said the missing soldiers and police paid their commanders to get out of working.
“If you pay 300,000 dinars a month [$240], you don’t have to come to work at all – if you only have 250,000, you have to bargain,” said Katham. Most federal police are paid about $600 a month, with soldiers paid more. The rate for not showing up for work for the Iraqi Army is about $450 a month, says Haider.
Security forces have to ask neighbors for drinking water, toilets
“If a policeman demands his rights they might label him a terrorist – he is not allowed to complain,” said one of Haidar's colleagues. “The government doesn’t provide anything to us,” said the policeman, who asked to be called Amar out of fear of being punished or arrested if his real name were used. He says the police are banned from becoming friendly with the neighbors because it might compromise their security, but says they have to rely on them for drinking water and toilet access.
Their six-hour breaks between shifts in the 90-degree heat are spent at a facility with no fans or running water. “Half the time I’m sitting here I’m so tired I’m half asleep,” says Amar.
Sahar Issa contributed to this report.