By Army Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 18, 2008 - Thirty-seven Iraqi women attended their first day of training Aug. 16 at the Kirkuk Police Academy in northeastern Iraq. Officials said it's been a year since the academy has seen any women recruits, and a class of this size is unprecedented.
"We need these females badly," Lt. Col. Muid, a cadre member at the academy, said. "It is our religious custom not to touch our women, so we cannot search females. Our female [Iraqi Police] will be extremely important to use at checkpoints and government buildings throughout the province."
Muid also noted that the women would bring a different perspective to policing. "Women think differently than men," he said. "They will bring fresh ideas to how we conduct business."
The class's 37 women are split into squad-like elements. Each squad will have a U.S. military policewoman from the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team helping out: Army Sgt. 1st Class Sumalee Bustamante, who has 16 years of Army service and is a former drill sergeant, and Army Spc. Jennifer Swierk, who has served for two years.
"This is going to be a big challenge," Swierk said, "but I'm proud to be a part of this page in Kirkuk's, if not Iraq's, history."
For Police recruit Nowal, 30, who lives with her brother and has never held a job, the experience so far has her realizing she has a lot of work ahead of her. "I am very tired," she said after her first day of training. However, she said, she is determined to serve her country. Nowal's brother is a member of the Kirkuk Police force.
Despite the recent increase in female suicide bombers in Iraq, these women are undaunted by the dangers of the field they have chosen. When asked what they would do if they were to spot a suicide bomber at a checkpoint, they did not hesitate to answer as a group: "Man or woman, if you come through our checkpoint, we will stop you."
"Terrorists are not welcome in the province of Kirkuk," Intesar, 29, said. She harbors no sympathy toward the suicide bombers. "They are not Iraqis; they are not Muslim," she said. "It is not our way. They are mad."
The opportunity to serve on the Police force provides much-needed jobs. Jinan, 42, whose husband was killed by insurgents a year ago, said she has a 5-year-old son to feed. Jinan said she believes she is accomplishing two goals. "I will be able to take care of my son, and also help ensure he has a safe future here," she said.
An Iraqi Police recruit earns about 185,000 Iraqi dinars monthly -- about $81 in U.S. money -- with an additional 25,000-dinar per diem, about $20. After graduating from the academy, an Iraqi police officer will make 500,000 dinar -- around $360 -- including hazardous duty pay that varies depending on the area of responsibility.
The women have to fulfill the same standards as men to graduate. The Iraqi Interior Ministry's standard is 240 hours of training over about four weeks. Following two hours of calisthenics each morning -- marching, running and various drills geared toward team building -- the rest of the day is spent rotating from indoor to outdoor classroom instruction on law enforcement procedures such as democratic policing, human rights, hostage survival, basic first aid, and responding to an ambush.
The only adjustment the cadres have had to make compared to training men is using a stick so they don't physically make contact with their female recruits.
"We are so used to 'hands-on training' when showing our recruits how to do something," Muid said. "In our custom, we cannot touch our females. That is the only difficult change for me that I see so far. It is good that we have female coalition soldiers to help us," he said.
"This is going to be an amazing experience for all of us," Bustamante said. "I'm looking forward to helping my fellow female police officer and being a part of the positive historic changes occurring here."
(Army Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson serves in the 10th Mountain Division's 1st brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)