January 20, 2006

Officer of the Piece


(click image for the better view)

This is the image that accompanied a grim story in Thursday’s NYT titled Police Recruits Among Massacre Victims Found in Iraq.

According to the article, 25 bodies, some with police ID, were found in the desert east of Baghdad.  The men were reported to be from Samarra and were studying at the Baghdad Police Academy.  Also, another mass grave was discovered north of Baghdad containing the bodies of 11 more police officers and soldiers.  Although ethnic affiliation was not provided, it was noted that Sunnis that have joined the security forces have recently been special targets of insurgents.

So, what are we to make of this image depicting Iraqi police in southern Baghdad at the scene of a car bombing? 

On the “up” side, we have the reassuring sight of Iraqi police responding to domestic terrorism.  On the “down side” — given the wreckage and the “what’s all this” gesture of the cop in the background — we get more of a sense of “too little, too late.”  However, the fact the officer closest to us holds a gun behind his back is, pardon the expression, too loaded to escape primary attention.

The caption identifies this partial figure as a member of the force, but how much can we trust the fact?  Given the risk to Iraqi policeman from one of their own, does the image offer a new dimension to the term “watch your back?”

Not to complicate things further, but news stories and pictures cannot exist outside the political realm.  Given America’s new (and highly publicized) strategy to support and supervise Iraqi police forces, it’s hard not to consider that context.  With the premium the U.S. is placing on professional practice, it’s disconcerting to see this gun so accessible in what otherwise seems like an investigation scene.  But maybe that’s just one clue to the kind of challenge the Americans are facing.  If, in the States, power derives from a show of discipline, in Iraq, it clearly looks like it’s the other way around.

(revised: 1/20/06.  7:27 am PST)

(image: Max Becherer/Polaris for The New York Times.  January 19, 2006.  Baghdad, Iraq.  nyt.com)

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Michael Shaw
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