Being a policeman in Iraq pays $200 a month and will quite possibly get you killed. Just this week, more than 100 Iraqi policemen have died — at checkpoints, on recruitment lines, or just picking up their salaries — in a wave of suicide bombings and ambushes. More than 1,400 have been killed in the past six months alone.
But one Baghdad police captain says morale is upbeat. He says the act of one brave cop — on Iraq’s election day — was a turning point.
“It was a message for all terrorists,” explainsCapt. Mathana Hantoush, of the Yarmouk police station. “If you can give your life for your cause, so can we.”
Early on January 30, outside a school that had been converted into a polling station, 29-year-old Sgt. Abdul Amir saw a suspicious man approach.
“One of the security guards did his job and saw this man running at him who was a suicide bomber,” says Lt. Charles Heaton with the First Cavalry Division.
According to eyewitnesses, Amir grabbed the bomber, pushed him far from the crowd of voters and was blown to shreds when the bomb belt detonated. He probably saved dozens of lives.
“Abdul Amir prevented a disaster,” says the school principal, who now wants the school to be renamed in Amir's honor.
Even Amir's family — while mourning his loss — is proud of his death.
“He died to save others," says his sister, Amira Kadum. “He is a true hero.”
On national TV, Iraqi Prime Minster Ayad Allawi called Amir the young democracy's first champion.
Amir's colleagues have turned his police car — No. 955, damaged in the blast — into a makeshift memorial. All that's left are his police badge, shoes and legacy.
“Since the incident, people have been more supportive. We're getting more tips on insurgents,” says Amir’s colleague, Hosein Maki.
There have been other positive effects. Police say the number of recruits has actually increased since election day after word spread about Sgt. Abdul Amir's selfless act. And despite the relentless attacks by insurgents, many Iraqi police say they feel stronger now, due, in large part, to the courage of a fellow cop, doing his duty, so that others could do theirs.