You can’t move on the ground anywhere in Iraq without encountering check points. As matter of fact, there are places along the roads where you can’t get your vehicles up to 80 kph because you run into another checkpoint immediately following the one you just cleared.
So, with all these checkpoints, is Iraq more secure?
The short answer, NO.
THE MATH: CONTRACTOR (PSD or CONVOY) + CHECKPOINT = HASSLES AND UNREALIZED DANGERS
Here’s the thing, Checkpoints are certainly effective in disrupting convoys, PSDs, and local civilian traffic, but observably accomplish little more than that on the surface. They don’t stop the rat-line of bad guys and support coming into regional centers, and they most certainly don’t provide security past a plain view inspection of most vehicles.
However, they do provide an overt symbol of authority and maybe it’s as simple an explanation as that.
But, certain things do occur at checkpoints that must be noted and dealt with on frequent occasion by contractors running the roads…
If you are a contractor, expect a hassle at every stop. The days of blowing past check points in an effort to secure your safety and mission objectives are long gone. You are now required to show your company paperwork and supporting documents at EVERY turn.
If that’s not enough, some checkpoints have you document your passing in a ‘book’. You, the assets you protect, and your team sit exposed like ducks while the checkpoint monkeys thump their chests in authority every 1000’ feet. It is to the point of ridiculousness, but unavoidable.
The “Papers Please” drama is a large hassle and often confusing for all the parties involved because the standards and document requirements change all the time. Just when you think you are 100% square with your papers, the MOI changes the game causing havoc and disruption that isn’t always solved with a smile and shrug of the shoulders.
To make matters worse, no two checkpoints seem to be manned by Iraqi personnel that share a professional standard or common command. You can go from a very organized Iraqi Army checkpoint and run smack into an Iraqi Police checkpoint that seems operated more by reformed insurgents and militia types than Police Officers.
This type of non-uniformity and characteristically poor behavior causes unease and tensions more often than not. Professionalism is very up to base interpretation in Iraq. One thing is for sure, it’s less about the legal standards and national security measures they are trying to institute and enforce and more about one very important notion to the denizens of Iraq – R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
As a Contractor, you can’t drop your guard at checkpoint. You can never trust the agenda of those manning them.
Highway tolls; it’s a running annoyance, but expect to get a hassle for bottled water at every checkpoint you roll through. It’s become known as the ‘water tax’. It used to be a courtesy to hand a bottle of water to the Uniformed Officers stopping you at his checkpoint for the perfunctory ‘inspection’.
Now, it’s a demand, and not just for a single bottle of water but for two or three, or more. A small courtesy went straight to being an entitlement and expected practice in a matter of weeks. …and it doesn’t end there.
Worse, The Iraqis manning checkpoints have become bold filchers ready to snatch anything that’s not nailed to your person or your vehicle; if it’s in arms reach or they see it when you crack your door open at inspection, there’s a real possibility that they’ll just grab it or make an open demand for it – flashlights, drinks, pens, and gear. This is COMMON. First they demand respect, and then they attempt to steal from you and often do.
These are the Army and Police of Iraq. I assert that if this is what can be expected as a common practice, things will certainly continue to deteriorate and all good nature will be replaced with something less savory.
When you approach a checkpoint, take in the big picture and assess the readiness and posture being taken at the checkpoint you’re crossing. Are the soldiers or police switched on? How many of them are there? What’s their posture?
If there is on overly large presence of checkpoint personnel and vehicles, this is a sign to watch for. When Iraqis are confrontational they swarm their targets. So, an overabundant amount of personnel and Iraqi gun trucks congregated at a checkpoint can signal potential trouble. Be ready.
Given the status quo, there’s a few things you can do to be prepped for your almost certain check point encounter:
• Be polite and ready to be a diplomat. Even to the point of nausea. Iraqi’s regardless of uniform and unit are emotional people. If you act like an ass, expect trouble. Well, expect hassles either way…REMEMBER, YOU ARE SUBJECT TO IRAQI LAW, show the requested documents, sign what is needed and move on as soon as possible.
• Petty tribute. Have ample bottled water handy. Nothing aggravates me more than this, but you’ve got to offer these brigands something. Water is the cheapest form of presently accepted tribute available.
• Have nothing within arms reach inside your vehicle that you don’t want stolen. Also, it has been my experience that Iraqi Police tend to be faster to steal than Iraqi soldiers, but I have seen both. They will also try and pick things off your person. They are more and more aggressive with this type of behavior.
• Never commit your whole convoy to the checkpoint entry. This is Iraq. Your next contact could be right at a checkpoint where you’re stopped. Make sure you and your guys are switched on, not distracted, and continue to use proper Tactics.
• Trust no one. It goes without saying, but I am going to say it – The Iraqi military and Police force are seriously corrupt and the lack of clear National leadership lends to the problem. Escalation of force can happen at a checkpoint in a snap second due to the simplest misconstrued action. Evaluate every checkpoint upon approach and be deliberate.
• Insure your comms and panic alarm to your command are in order. If warranted, hit the panic alarm and let folks know you’re in trouble. As well, report any issue or trouble being realized to at a checkpoint to your operations officer at first notice. • Document and Record. Take pictures, roll video, take MGRS grids, and keep notes on all difficult encounters. You’ll need these resources for an investigation or to insure your name is clear of any complaint if one arises. Seriously, do this.
Realize the game being played out in the red zone and be ready to deal with the complexities offered. Your skills, diplomacy, and professionalism will make the difference.
~Bubba G Editor at Large
Bubba G is an active protective professional presently performing contract duties in the Middle East and has well over 15 years of military, high risk contracting, international training and martial arts experience.