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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 11:27 GMT
On the beat in Basra

By Paul Adams
BBC defence correspondent

Police car
New cars have arrived from Kuwait
Pity the poor officers at al-Ashar, one of the main police stations in Basra.

It's not exactly what you'd expect in a city where there's plenty of crime to combat. About 250 policemen make do with just 10 walkie-talkies, two computers (not connected to each other or the outside world) and a limited supply of handcuffs (mostly, they use string).

In the days of Saddam Hussein, the police enjoyed almost no authority and corruption was the norm. Hardly surprising, then, that the station was looted and burned right after the war.

It has had a lick of paint since, but the absence of furniture and equipment tells its own story.

There are now 5,500 policemen in Basra's newly constituted force, each earning $120 a month.

Dozens of them mill about al-Ashar in newly supplied uniforms, but it's not clear what many of them are really doing. In Iraq's second largest city, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

"It's very hard," says Lieutenant Colonel Qasem Radhi, a veteran with 21 years of service. "We have to operate with the things we've got."

At least they've got some new cars. Fifteen pick-up trucks have just arrived from Kuwait, courtesy of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

'Small steps forward'

I take to the streets with Lieutenant Haidar Abdul Mahdi, in his older, battle-scarred pick-up. Bullet holes testify to close encounters with Basra's bandits.

Basra police
Basra's new force now has 5,500 officers
In the back stand four officers armed with Kalashnikovs. With car-jackings and kidnappings common, the show of force is perhaps necessary. A recent spate of roadside bombs has added to an uncertain atmosphere.

It's not long before the limitations of his equipment become apparent. A short distance from the station and his walkie-talkie is already out of range. He resorts to his mobile phone to contact colleagues.

At Basra's CPA headquarters, those involved in providing assistance to the Iraqi police admit that progress is not quite as quick as they'd like.

"Sometimes the progress is small, but each day we're making small steps forward," says Chief Superintendent Joe Elder, a British Ministry of Defence policeman who currently sports the title "deputy director for law and order."

And it's not just about equipment. Police officers from Britain, Italy, Holland and Denmark are busy imparting values too.

Role play

At a derelict hospital on the fringes of Basra, two buildings have been turned into makeshift classrooms.

We hope that we'll give them inspiration to look at police work in another way
Detective Chief Inspector Mogens Jonsen
This is the Iraqi police academy, where officers trained under the old regime learn about different ways of policing.

The course folder speaks of sessions on "delegation", "police ethics" and "human rights". A poster on the wall rams home the message: "People only live full lives in the light of human rights."

Detective Chief Inspector Mogens Jonsen, of the Copenhagen CID, is taking a class on decision-making.

The class is lively, with officers entering into the spirit of some role play. Others, not used to the teaching methods or the subject matter, show mild embarrassment or amusement.

It's hard to gauge the impact of such well-intentioned efforts.

Chief Inspector Jonsen says that despite their background, the officers are keen to learn new methods.

"We hope that we'll give them inspiration to look at police work in another way," he says. "To go out into the street, to have contact with people, to help the people. Not only to punish the people."



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