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Iraq: Despite Dangers, Many Attracted To Serve In Army, Police By Patriotism, Good Salaries

Some Iraqis who decide to become police officers or join the country's new army say they are doing so because they want to serve their country. Others say such service is simply a way of earning a good salary. But while the money may be good, these recruits are increasingly becoming the targets of terrorist attacks. Two such attacks killed around 100 Iraqis just this week. Will such incidents affect the number of new recruits?

Prague, 12 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- For several months, insurgents have been attacking Iraqi civilians who are cooperating with or seeking to work with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. Policemen and soldiers have been the most frequent targets. At least 350 Iraqi police officers and security personnel have died in such attacks since May.

Yesterday, a car packed with explosives blew up amid a crowd of Iraqis waiting outside an army recruiting office in Baghdad, killing 47 people. Earlier this week (10 February), a suicide bombing against a police recruiting station in the predominantly Shi'a town of Al-Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, claimed the lives of 53 people.

"The main drive is a bunch of youths who love Iraq, and they have the urge to participate in building a new, democratic, and peaceful Iraq."
Mahmud Uthman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Governing Council, says that, until the latest attacks, the number of people applying for jobs with the Iraqi police and army had been on the rise. He says there are two reasons why people volunteer for such work. Some of them want to serve their country, while others have no other options for finding jobs in a country where unemployment is at least 50 percent.

Uthman says he is confident that, despite such attacks, the police and army will not lack for new recruits. "I don't know what will happen after these incidents, but I think still enough people and even more than enough will be willing and will be there to volunteer to serve within the police, within the army, to serve Iraq because they just want to serve and at the same time they are getting jobs, which are rather well paid," he said.

Uthman says police officers and soldiers in Iraq are better paid than they were a couple of months ago. He says the salaries of soldiers have been increased threefold and that they are now getting some $200 per month -- significantly higher than the average wage in Iraq. He said police officers are getting "even more."

Uthman added that being a police officer is becoming a prestigious job in Iraq. The new Iraqi police force has managed to reduce street crime by some 50 percent, he said, and "everybody in the country knows they are doing a good job."

Colonel Moaiad Bashar works in the Mansur police station in the most prestigious part of Baghdad. He told RFE/RL that many young people apply for work because they want to do something to make their country safer. "It's not for the money. Maybe that's one reason, but it's not the only one," he said. "The main drive is a bunch of youths who love Iraq, and they have the urge to participate in building a new, democratic, and peaceful Iraq."

Tholfiqar Saif al-Din, a lieutenant at the Alkharkh police station in Baghdad, says he is happy with his salary. Al-Din says he received $286 in January -- $86 more than he was paid in December. He says the authorities started paying additional money as compensation for the dangers policemen are encountering.

Al-Din says the salary is the main reason he takes risks every day. "The main reason [I work here] is for surviving, because I don't have [the option of] any job except this job, like I'm doing as an officer," he said. "I can't find another job, so I'm forced to face the danger. My salary is only to support my family and me."

Both al-Din and Bashar say salaries now are much better than they were during the former regime of Saddam Hussein. However, while salaries have gone up, police officers say they still lack weapons and other basic equipment. "We have weapons, but they're not sufficient," Bashar said. "We don't have enough cars. During the former regime, we had modern cars. We had many of them at our headquarters. Now, we have four or five cars, but our superiors often use them."

Bashar says the shortage of cars forces officers to patrol on foot, making them more vulnerable to attacks. He says several traffic policemen were killed while on patrol recently.

Samah Walid Rashid arrived at the army recruiting center in Baghdad yesterday just after it had been attacked. He says the blast will not change his decision to serve in the new Iraqi Army. He says he is not afraid. "Every human being has one soul, and when God wants to take it, he takes it," Rashid said. "It is not in my power."

Sami Alkhoja from Baghdad contributed to this story.