By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/4/2004 12:49:36 PM ET 2004-10-04T16:49:36

At 8:00 a.m., Baghdad's main police recruitment center is already crowded with hundreds vying for perhaps the most dangerous job in Iraq.

Among the recruits is Heitham Hassan — 27 years old, married, a part-time carpenter. Soon he'll be on the front line in the war against insurgents — who have killed more than 700 police in the past 18 months, including 100 recruits waiting in line to fill out job applications.

But for Hassan, the most immediate concern is passing a literacy test. It's a struggle — Hassan dropped out of school at 15.

But he does pass. Then he breezes through his check-up and fitness test.

But why does Hassan want such a risky job? To support his wife Meyada — five months pregnant with their first child. He admits police work was not his first choice.

"I looked for another job for two months and couldn't find anything," says Hassan.

But the $200 a month policemen now earn will go a long way. 

In the rush to attract recruits, however, critics say the wrong people are being hired and it's not clear whose side they are on.

"The issue of their value is on the streets," says Frederick Barton of the Center for Strategic International Studies. "Are they wiling to go out onto the steet and work? And do the citizens of those areas trust them? So far, neither of those things have been happening that much."

In Samarra and parts of Baghdad, militants bully the police — who either cooperate or more often just look the other way.

To change that, NBC News has learned the Iraqi Interior Ministry plans to fire 40,000 of the current 100,000 policemen. They are being let go because they are either incompetent, or untrustworty. The U.S. has budgeted $60 million to buy them out so they won't take up arms.

The Iraqi government hopes the police being recruited and trained on this base will not only fight crime, but play a military role in regaining control of the county.

As for Heitham Hassan, he passed all his tests and next month will undergo eight weeks of training. It's still a fast ramp up — Hassan is just one of 70,000 new police recruits who the government wants on the street by the elections in January.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments