For few dollars, anyone can be Iraqi policeman

BAGHDAD — A disreputable crew of unshaven men wearing police uniforms pounces on a businessman before the horrified eyes of his wife as he leaves his home in an upscale Baghdad neighbourhood.

Luckily for the hapless commuter, two crisply dressed “heroes” show up, swiftly disarm the attackers and derisively tear off their fake “Iraqi Police” armbands.

Welcome to the world of state-owned television’s public service announcements.

Outside in the real streets, however, the heroes don’t always arrive and survivors of incident after bloody incident report being attacked by gunmen wearing apparently official security uniforms — with total impunity.

The attacks have reached such a level that the interior ministry this week issued phone numbers for its operations room so people can call to confirm the identities of gunmen in uniform.

“The ministry asked citizens to prevent such criminals from carrying out their dirty intentions by using the name of a force which works hard to serve the people,” the ministry statement said.

Many Sunnis have accused the country’s Shiite-dominated security forces of involvement in attacks and kidnappings, but would-be gunmen don’t have to look far to find security uniforms.

“Iraqi army, police, ministry of interior, US army — choose! We have all the uniforms,” said one salesmen in Baghdad’s downtown Tahrir Square.

With shirts available for $3.25 (2.55 euros), pants at $5.50 and an “IP” armband for one dollar, a hypothetical kidnapper would only have to spend $10 for his disguise.

For those looking to add flair to the outfit, unit insignia and ranks range from 15 cents to a dollar. Genuine medals can even be bought at stores in the major hotels.

“I regret that military clothing can be found freely sold in the market or be imported,” said Major General Abdel Aziz Mohammed in a briefing this week.

“We will import new uniforms that will be distributed to our units that no one will be able to obtain otherwise, and will be difficult to imitate,” he said, repeating the oft-heard promise of new uniforms.

At the start of a month-old Baghdad security operation, the government also said that police and military units would wear new outfits that would be hard to imitate. They have yet to appear.

There is debate over whether the new outfits will even solve the problem. Merchants selling military garb point out that while some uniforms are counterfeit, most are the real deal — obtained from soldiers and police themselves.

“It’s members of the different units that sell their uniforms,” said one salesman.

A major from the interior ministry walking through the market explained to AFP that he had come here to sell his new uniform and buy an old one.

The officer said he could make a little profit of between $20 and $30 a uniform — but still show superiors that his unit has the correct number of uniforms.

Salaries for soldiers and police range from $250 to $400 per month, depending on rank, with soldiers making more than police in a country where prices always seem to be rising.

“We buy new uniforms for between $20 and $25 and then resell them for $40, with the price depending on the state of the uniform. The price can go down,” the salesman said.

On one occasion a member of the army sold 60 uniforms at once, but then the next day there was an operation. “They wanted them back. As a rule, we store the uniforms elsewhere,” added the seller.

The true prizes in the market for military clothing are the rare US uniforms sold by the local interpreters working with the US army.

These cost more than Iraqi uniforms, at around $70 each. 

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