BAGHDAD, Iraq – An interim police chief appointed by the U.S. Army began work Tuesday, taking command of hundreds of Iraqi police already patrolling the streets of Baghdad but acknowledging that American troops remain in charge.
Zabar Abdul Razaq, who spent 30 years in Iraqi law enforcement before retiring as an inspector with the Ministry of the Interior, said the police force will ultimately put 30,000 officers to work.
For now, a long history of corruption and the postwar looting that has plagued Baghdad are the chief worries. U.S. forces will pay officers' salaries.
Iraqi police must defer to U.S. troops or face arrest by the military and treatment as prisoners of war, said Lt. Col. Alan King, the civilian affairs commander of the Army's 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, which appointed Razaq.
"Under the Geneva Conventions, the United States is still responsible for law enforcement," said King, who discussed the organization of the new police department with Razaq.
Also Tuesday, a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 gathered outside the Palestine Hotel to demand the release of Sheikh Mohammed al-Fartusi, a Shiite Muslim cleric who reportedly had been detained by U.S. forces the day before.
The demonstration dispersed after another cleric said al-Fartusi had been released. U.S. Central Command did not confirm either the detention or the release.
And outside the city, on the grounds of Abu Ghraib prison, relatives of several missing men pulled two decomposed bodies from a grave. They were digging into the earth, looking for loved ones abducted by Saddam Hussein's government in his regime's final days.
They removed at least two bodies and were looking for about six others who were taken from a mosque about a month ago.
"We all feel very sad. ... until now, we didn't believe Saddam Hussein is gone, that it's over," said Ali Khaled Shefeq, 40, a chemical engineer digging with a spade. "We pray he will never come back again."
The interim police chief will be in control until a new civilian government takes over in Baghdad and chooses a permanent chief, King said.
Razaq said life was already returning to normal with more shops opening and almost no looting. "The Iraqi people are happy to see Iraqi police back on the streets," he said.
But King said some former Iraqi police, still wearing their green fatigues, have been robbing Baghdad homes and businesses, presenting a problem for the new force and U.S. troops who often have problems telling real police from impostors.
Razaq said the former police force was not closely tied to Saddam's regime, but corruption was a major problem.
King and Razaq decided to buy new uniforms and produce new identification documents for the new police force.
The U.S. military plans to start paying the new police force Wednesday, King said. The higher wages, Razaq said, would discourage police from demanding bribes.
The new recruits will be trained by police experts from the United States.