The Scottish soldier bringing law to the lawless in Iraq

GENERAL Ahmed Khafarji, grey-suited, shirt-collar button undone, unshaven, sits behind the desk of his office high above the city of Baghdad.

Khafarji is deputy minister in Iraq’s new ministry of interior. It’s his job to deal with matters relating to the new Iraqi police service. The man sitting in the armchair across the desk is Brigadier Andrew Mackay, who has been given the task of rebuilding that police force.

Mackay never intended to wind up trying to rebuild the Iraqi police force. He arrived in Baghdad in February, thinking he might stay a couple of months before moving back to Edinburgh. Somehow, along the way, he ended up with one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

The police force was in a mess when he arrived. Some officers preferred to sit around their stations eating food, drinking tea and fizzy drinks, and chatting. No-one had the faintest idea how many of them there were, or what they did. Many didn’t do very much at all.

Without an effective police force, coalition commanders began to realise, there was no hope of restoring law and order. They decided to set up a special unit to train a new Iraqi police service capable of taking on the job. And they turned to Mackay to run it.

He is 47, a tall man from Elgin with a pale complexion and fair hair beginning to recede a little. His lengthy CV includes a spell in Kosovo with the advisory unit for security and justice and commanding the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. With his background in Kosovo, it was decided that he was the right man for the job.

The deputy minister tells him they have been recruiting for the new public order battalion for Basra. It will number 500 men. He tells Mackay he has selected a retired army commander to lead the new unit. Mackay looks non-plussed; Khafarji reminds him that he has met the man. He had a large abdomen, he says, making his point with a gesture over his own belly.

Mackay is clearly not impressed with the choice; he was one of a group of 30 that he thought he had made clear were not considered good enough to be placed in command. They discussed the criteria, he says; early forties or younger, fit, strong, courageous. Someone who can run with his men, not fall behind after ten metres.

This is a problem, Khafarji counters. All the men of the rank of colonel who could command the unit are over 40. He pats his own not inconsiderable stomach. They have spent 24 months in their homes just eating and sleeping, he explains, so they have fat stomachs.

Even the existence of the public order battalions is causing him problems, Khafarji says. They have been set up to exercise control over demonstrations, public gatherings and other events which have a tendency to attract trouble. In Basra, the various political parties have taken to the idea badly. They have threatened to try to fill the force with their own placemen.

Each party wanted 50 to 60 of their members in the force, Khafarji says, so they stopped recruiting. He looks dejected, harassed. He places his arms on his desk and his fingers against his temples.

Mackay is already half an hour late for a lunch meeting with another general. He makes soothing noises, promising to look into it. Over lunch, he is briefed on the latest intelligence. The Iranians are playing up, arming the militias, passing them information. The Syrians want to change the government and the Iranians want to wreck the elections and take over the country. There will be an upsurge in terrorism as the polls approach, maybe attempts to kidnap government ministers. The meal itself, though, is pleasant - lamb, rice and noodles, side dishes of hummus, yoghurt and beans, with large flat breads to mop it up. No-one seems dejected by the difficulties; there is laughter and even an attempt to tell a joke, allegedly English, the humour of which is lost somewhere in the translation. No-one thinks the problems insurmountable.

On another floor of the same building, Mackay stops by to say hello to Hala Shakir, the deputy finance minister, and to drink the special lemon tea for which she has given him the recipe. She tells him she received a threat two weeks ago that she would be kidnapped. "I believe if you have faith in God, then nothing will happen to you. I have faith in God that nothing will happen to me," she tells him.

Shakir has bodyguards who stay in her neighbourhood; Kurds are the best, she says. They chat a bit about her forthcoming trip to the US and the $75 a month that is supposed to be paid to the members of the Emergency Response Unit. It has not been paid; she can’t get an answer from the minister and there is no system for bonuses.

She pauses, then tells him she spoke to her mother the other day. "Yesterday," her mother had said, "for the first time in my life, I was afraid for you, as sometimes you are targeted because you are so honest and hard-working."

Mackay finishes his tea and wishes her good luck on her trip. He stops to speak to another official, tells them to make sure that Shakir’s security is sorted out. "It is important," he says. "Please see to it."

Then he trots down the stairs and into the waiting Land Cruisers of his personal security detachment; heavily-armed Americans with serious sunglasses and very serious weaponry.

They all appear to carry several firearms, and from a pouch on one man’s body armour, the head of a grenade is visible. They drive him fast through the streets, mounting the kerb and crossing into oncoming traffic from time to time to avoid getting stuck in queues, where they could be targets for an attack.

Mackay’s adjutant has a map showing recent blasts and shootings, each coded with a different colour; the map is a mass of red, blue, green, yellow.

The only queue the vehicles cannot avoid is the one outside the Baghdad police headquarters. The guards are methodically checking every vehicle, but it means those waiting to enter are left sitting in the street. It is not ideal, and Mackay says so, several times. Eventually, he gets inside.

General Abdulrazaq Abdulwahab Kamal, Baghdad’s police chief, greets him. Mackay has spoken of him in glowing terms; a brave man doing the most difficult of jobs.

Kamal looks tired. He has many problems, he says. He needs to control the streets but there are a lot of organisations paying a lot of money for the services of criminals who can be hired to attack the police. They don’t have enough weapons, he explains. They are fighting on two fronts, one political and the other criminal, and both want them dead. If he had more weapons, he says, he could tell the coalition forces to stay in their bases and let the Iraqis get on with it. We are not cowards, he says. The criminals will be beaten.

Mackay nods, agrees. The weapons are coming, he says. He knows they need them. He turns to his adjutant; we have to get them their weapons. He would much rather they occupied the streets: he would sleep better at night.

But Kamal is not downhearted. Undercover operations are producing results, he says. His men have arrested 100 gangs in the past month. They were criminals, but they were receiving money from outside the country to go for political targets.

And what of the colonel who was killed, shot dead that morning? The colonel was a brave man who dealt with mines and bombs, Kamal says. "We have hundreds of terrorists in the city. Every day we have a grenade or a car bomb. Whenever a terrorist placed a bomb and he and his squad went to defuse it, he made himself a target. But he did not consider himself a target, so he just drove his car to work every day alone.

"And this morning, the terrorists were waiting for him, and they ambushed him, and they shot him."

Experienced hand makes progress despite climate of fear and violence

ANDREW Mackay began his career in the Hong Kong police force before joining the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. His time in Kosovo, working with the advisory unit for security and justice and commanding the KOSB was significant in his selection for his key role in Iraq.

Brigadier Mackay, who has been in the difficult post since February, is one of only two British officers assigned to the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT). It is a bit of a mouthful, he admits, but acronyms are not something that he has much time to worry about.

Trainers were brought in to help the rebuilding of the Iraqi police force, specialists in every field. They started from scratch, identifying officers that could be trusted to command the new units, establishing structures, setting up police academies and even building the classrooms.

Seven months into the job, they are finally tackling the task that they hope will set them on course to a fully effective police force: getting rid of the dead wood. In a room on the tenth floor of the ministry of interior, men are clustered round lap-top computers and sophisticated fingerprint scanners.

This is the tool CPATT plans to use to ensure that it gets the people it wants. Every police officer will be fingerprinted and photographed for a new identity card. No biometrics, no card; no card, no pay. That is the plan.

Each computer package cost $15,500 and they will have 400 of them, paid for out of a $13 million budget for this qualifying committee project alone. It is a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of the policing operation. Brigadier Mackay reckons he has spent $1.5 billion since he arrived, the largest police training mission ever undertaken.

The name of the committee was the Iraqis’ idea; no-one could object to a committee which was only there to assess whether they were qualified to be police officers, though plenty have reason to fear it.

Under the old regime, a police officer could commit a rape or a murder and walk back into his old job on his release from prison, according to Colonel Muhannad Amin from the internal affairs department, who is tasked with investigating police officers.

Now they will be out. Those with a guilty past know they are in trouble; you can see their fingers shaking as they place them on the scanner, he says. And the system has one other advantage; no-one has any idea how many police officers there are in Iraq. This way, they should find out.

Amin is unimpressed with the quality of some of his colleagues; too many are affiliated to political parties and others do not have any qualifications or training, he says. Another officer chips in: he knows of one police chief in the provinces who cannot even read or write. This surprises no-one.

To train those new recruits who make it through the qualifying process, CPATT has established police academies in Baghdad and in Jordan.

After an eight-week course, the officers graduate and are sent to their stations. For those officers already in the force, there are more courses; they can be trained to use information gathered from the site of bombings to track down the perpetrators, they can learn how to handle informants, how to deal with organised crime, or they can learn how to handle a crime scene.

The latter is a particularly valuable skill; at the academy in Baghdad, bureau chief Kevin Clayton explains how senior officers have a tendency to blunder about, destroying evidence after pulling rank to be allowed in.

On Thursday Ayad Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister, was treated to a demonstration of the new forces in action as he watched the new Emergency Response Unit running through its paces, blowing open doors and snatching suspects at gunpoint. Soon Brigadier Mackay hopes to have a similar SWAT team in every province.

While waiting for Mr Allawi to arrive, he ran through CPATT’s other achievements: two special police regiments with light armour, nine public order battalions, a dignitary protection service. He recites his mantra: organise, equip, train and mentor.

In December, Brigadier Mackay is due to return to Scotland to take over command of 52 Brigade in Edinburgh.

When he leaves, he hopes that he will be able to hand over to his successor, an American two-star general, a viable outfit. He believes they are making progress.