BAGHDAD, Iraq – Crowds are still way below prewar levels at one of Baghdad's busiest fruit and vegetable markets, where many shoppers still fear lawlessness — pickpockets in the market and car thieves on streets outside.
Those fears should be easing soon as Iraq's new police slowly retake the streets.
Iraqi police, conspicuous in their brand-new blue uniforms, patrol the perimeter of the market. Unnoticed, plainclothesmen work indoors, blending with shoppers until someone shouts "Ali Baba! Ali Baba!" — the Iraqi vernacular for thief.
Suddenly, a man behind a fruit stall jumps forward, joined by another man who moments before was sweeping the street. Other undercover police help grab the culprit. Uniformed police step in with handcuffs and lead him away. The plainclothesmen blend again into the hubbub of shoppers.
Looters and murderers still engender fear in ordinary people and sabotage joint Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition efforts to rebuild the country. Iraqis have cited the security situation and a sense of general lawlessness in the streets as one of the biggest blocks on the road to a free and one-day democratic Iraq.
Thousands of Iraqi men have been recruited and trained to guard public facilities — banks, government ministries, power plants. Thousands who worked with Saddam Hussein's fallen regime and were dismissed have come back to work, patrolling alone or with coalition forces day and night throughout the capital, capturing car thieves and smugglers of ancient Iraqi artifacts.
Thousands more have enlisted and trained to work in customs and immigration. More than a thousand traffic police are on the beat, trying to persuade impatient Iraqis to follow the rules of the road. Thousands of others have slipped undercover against crime syndicates and kidnapping rings.
In Tikrit (search), Iraqi police arrested the brother of one of Saddam Hussein's top bodyguards and handed him over to U.S. forces, who wanted the man for allegedly organizing guerrilla attacks against American soldiers, the military reported Wednesday.
Over the next two years between 30,000 and 35,000 police officers will be trained and operating, said Bernard Kerik (search), the former police commissioner in New York City who was called in by the U.S.-led civil administration running Iraq to establish an interim Interior Ministry.
"The total number [eventually] will be between 65,000-75,000," he told The Associated Press.
Guards to protect public facilities are envisioned at about 8,000, Kerik said.
Right now there are 1,850 traffic police in Baghdad, 12,000 police on the street in the capital and 5,200 in the rest of the country. Customs inspectors and police at the different airports number 5,000.
Kerik also wants to hire 5,000 firefighters.
The police are being fitted with new uniforms made locally for $6 a shirt and $9 a pair of trousers.
The country's police academies will begin recruiting on Aug. 15 for new police officers to take an eight-week training course.
"Every eight weeks there will be 1,000 new police, we'll start spitting them out," said Kerik.
The ministry also issued a call for any former policeman dismissed under Saddam's regime in the last 10 years for political reasons, and still under 45 years of age, to apply for a job.
More international police officers were also expected to come into the country to help. Dep. Chief Constable Doug Brand, a detective from Sheffield, England, works as a tutor and mentor to the acting Baghdad police chief, Hassan al-Obeidi (search).
Last week, al-Obeidi was shot in the right leg as he and some of his men were leaving a weapons raid in downtown Baghdad. In police headquarters a day after the shooting Hassan had moved a bed into his office and gave orders to his men while propped against pillows, a giant bouquet of flowers sitting beside him.
"All my men, when they see me here, they have the courage of ten men," al-Obeidi said.
Much of their recent work has centered on uncovering kidnapping rings. Al-Obeidi was present at one ransom exchange, watching as a father handed cash over to a kidnapper before police nabbed him and freed the child. Police also arrested a man who had been holding four terrified girls in his house.
The kidnappings and demands for ransom and the threat of rape — two of the girls had been sexually molested, were the biggest threats to the security of Iraqi women, stopping them from returning to their jobs, their studies and their lives.
"They're working around the clock, they're doing a phenomenal job," Kerik said, adding he believed the situation was improving all the time.
"If we stay on course here and continue to do the work it will happen, this country will be free."