TIKRIT, Iraq (May 16, 2008) - More than three hundred former Sons of Iraq members are now Iraqi Policemen after successfully completing eight weeks of training at the Kirkuk Police Academy during a graduation ceremony May 15, in this northeastern province.
The ceremony was attended by Kirkuk City and provincial government officials and Iraqi Security Forces, alongside Coalitionforce leadership.
"The province has shown tremendous progress in the last year. Events like this prove we are taking the necessary steps to show the world this province will stand together to defeat terrorists and establish rule of law," Col. David Paschal, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division told the graduating class.
All the IP graduates are residents of the district of Hawijah located approximately 60 miles southwest of Kirkuk City. This area was once considered ‘the Anbar of the north,’ where the region’s worst violence against civilians, Iraq Security Forces, and Coalition forces were formerly perpetrated by terrorists, with military records reporting 10 to 15 attacks daily against civilians, ISF and CF.
"This is a great day," Badri, 22, said. "I am so grateful to the Coalition forces and Lt. Col. Vanek who gave us an opportunity to join our Iraqi Security Forces and serve our country and our people."
Lt. Col. Christopher Vanek is the commander of the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment whose area of operation covers the Hawijah District, which has an SOI program with more than 7,500 members.
The new recruits will be returning to fill IP vacancies within the Hawijah District, therefore, filling a critical need for police there. For many, this milestone is the direct result of the security gains in the region, specifically in Hawijah, which has seen over an 80 percent drop in violent attacks against its citizens and their security forces, including the CF, since December’s inception of the SOI program there, according to Paschal.
"I was once a farmer unable to earn enough to feed my family. I had no choices," Ghafli, 29, said. "I will now return home with my head held high with a job and in an IP uniform."
The proud and confident attitude of ‘wearing the IP uniform in public’ is also a sign, to the majority of the ‘Hawijah 400’ who were interviewed, that better days await them.
"I would never have considered becoming an IP a year ago," Badri, 22, said.
"And if we did," Ghafli added. "We would never wear the uniform. It was a mark of death."
As to how the predominantly Sunni-Arab graduating class felt about their multi-ethnic environment at the academy, whose instructors are comprised of Kurdish, Turkman, Christian, and Arab ethnicities.
"We took an oath to serve and protect Iraqis. That is what we are and it is our responsibility to uphold the rule of law - what you are does not matter," Monir, 28, said. "We are all brothers."