1st full class of policewomen joins Iraq's fledgling force

BAGHDAD — Wafaa Kamal Abdul Razzaq, 22, had applied to be a cop after seeing an advertisement on state television. She needed work and the force needed women. Monday, she sat on the ground with the first graduating class, smiling as the orchestra played "Victorious Baghdad."

"We take a stand of courage with our brothers, the policemen," she said.

The Ministry of Interior graduated a class of 490 women Monday to join the ranks of Iraq's police officers. It's the first fully female class to graduate since the fledgling force was built. The Ministry of Interior has been widely criticized for relegating women to desk jobs and taking their weapons for their male counterparts.

However, Abdul Razzaq and the other female graduates will take to Iraq's streets, said Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, the spokesman for the ministry. Some will work in counterterrorism, and others will help staff the many checkpoints on Baghdad's streets. Since militants began sending in female suicide bombers, female officers are needed to search women and staff checkpoints.

"We as a ministry are in need of women not only for searching but to enter them into all the institutions of the ministry," Khalaf said. "We used to see only policemen in the street. Now we will see policewomen."

The women took a 30-day course providing rudimentary English and training in human rights, counterterrorism and the penal code. Despite its short length, Khalaf said, the course was enough to teach the women self-defense and competence with their weapons. They'll continue their studies, he said.

With college educations they could reach the ranks of officers in the ministry, he said.

Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani called the graduates "the daughters of Mesopotamia."

"These women will share with their brothers in undertaking this honor and this responsibility," he said.

Nawal al Sammarai, the minister of women's affairs, urged them to treat other women with respect.

"You should be fair with women whose rights were violated, and you should prevent the violation of their rights . . . You are responsible for doing justice by Iraqi women as long as you are here," Sammarai said.

As part of the graduation ceremony, the women simulated a bomb search on a bus. They emptied the bus and caught a man pretending to be a woman.

After the ceremony two of the graduates, Umm Tabarak and Umm Laith, congratulated each other for wearing blue uniform shirts. Their uniforms were incomplete, however, apparently because the ministry didn't have complete uniforms to hand out yet.

Some women wore jeans and others dress pants. They wore their own shoes from home.

Umm Tabarak and Umm Laith asked to be identified by their nicknames, which refer to their eldest sons, because of the danger of working as police officers. Umm Laith said she didn't want her ex-husband to know what she did, and Umm Tabarak said she was afraid because both she and her husband were in the police force now.

"God willing, I will see my daughter become a minister," she said.

(Hussein is a McClatchy special correspondent)


Iraqi candidates stumping for Jan. 31 provincial elections

2009 in Iraq: A new era dawns, but old fears still hold sway

U.S. raid kills Iraqi man, woman in their bed