BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. Army paid several thousand Baghdad policemen $20 each Tuesday and promised to bring in 4,000 more of their own officers, as Iraqis at a town hall-style meeting told the U.S. administrator that security is their top priority.
Outside the meeting, Iraqis furious about the lack of security demonstrated against the United States and said the Geneva Conventions require an occupying army to keep the peace.
"Our people are like a horse that broke its legs in a race. We need a bullet of mercy to end our lives," said Fadel Abbas Ali, a 30-year-old carpenter. "They are looting my house, my oil and my food."
U.S. forces said they were doing their best, but insisted the 12,000 soldiers in Baghdad were too few to police the city of 5 million. The Army said it had detained 5,000 people, mostly for looting, and that the reconstituted Iraqi police force had arrested 1,000 more.
"As you know better than me, this is a very large and bustling city," Maj. Gen. Glenn Webster, deputy commander of the U.S. ground forces in Iraq, told the assembled citizens. "Twelve thousand soldiers can easily be lost in a city this size."
Webster said up to 4,000 additional military police and infantrymen will arrive in the next two weeks to help stem the lawlessness that has seen looters and gunmen empty banks and museums, set fire to government ministries and terrorize residents. On Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was shot and wounded in downtown Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said.
Within a week, Webster said, American military policemen will begin to retrain Baghdad police officers.
At the police academy, the new force got its first pay -- an "emergency payment" of four crisp $5 bills each to hold them over while the Americans figure out how much each one should be paid.
Officers filed into the police academy past American tanks and razor wire -- and Iraqi looters carting off tables and chairs -- to pose for photos the Army said would be used for new police ID badges.
The police then signed their names and picked up their money -- equivalent to a month's wages for patrol officers.
"This is not a salary. It is more like a tip," said police Maj. Gen. Luay al-Gadeban, who was nonetheless first in line to pick up his money. "Iraqi society needs police, and they are begging us to return."
The Army said 3,241 police officers were paid Tuesday and more would get money in coming days. The police force dissolved when U.S. forces took control of the city on April 9, but about 10,000 of Baghdad's 30,000 police officers are back on the job, Lt. Col. Vanetta Ratcliffe estimated.
Army Maj. Vincent Crabb, chief liaison between U.S. forces and Iraqi police, said some Iraqi officers were spotted beating handcuffed suspects and had been reprimanded for it.
"I tell them, `We don't do that,"' Crabb said. "I keep telling them, `We're not a regime. We're a police department.' We're trying to build a professional organization."
Crabb -- retired from the Fort Worth, Texas, police force and now known as "the sheriff of Baghdad" -- said officers would soon shed their green army-like uniforms for blue, U.S.-style police garb.
"We want blue uniforms, just like we have in the United States," he said. "They have been ordered. I don't know the exact date they'll be here."
The approximately 50 people invited to the town hall meeting with the top U.S. administrators seemed puzzled at being asked to attend. Organizers described them as people who had been working with U.S. forces.
But once the meeting got under way, many stood to announce their complaints.
"You must make an announcement to the Iraqi people that all stolen property and bank assets will be returned to them," said a man who works at the Minerals and Industry Ministry.
"People have to work," said an engineering professor who gave her name as Maha. "If people have no work, they will loot."
The new U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, took notes. When it was over, he called the meeting a rousing success.
"Everybody got to say what they wanted to say. People got to disagree," Garner said. "I think this is one of the first steps in bringing normality back to Baghdad. It's long, hard work, but we'll get it done."