GENERATION GAP. Baghdad, Iraq -- It takes a while to get to Brigadier General Saleh, the commander of all Iraqi police forces in western Baghdad. For understandable reasons, the ornate Karkh Directorate police headquarters is protected by nearly an entire city block's worth of cement barricades and concertina wire within the Sunni neighborhood of Yarmouk. When you finally enter the building, it's difficult not to be impressed. Far from the crumbling and squalid conditions of most western Baghdad police stations, Karkh Directorate HQ is pristine: plainclothes officers use their downtime to water the courtyard garden. Saleh's office gives off an air of authority. Nearly every inch of wall space is covered by elaborate whiteboards tracking his men's patrols, arrests, shift changes, checkpoints and crime patterns.
But what Saleh has to say about his police is surprising. A middle-aged former Iraqi Army officer during the Saddam Hussein era, and highly respected by the U.S. military police partnering with him, Saleh comports himself in accordance with his background, from his trim mustache to his sharp looks at his nervous subordinates to his despair over the current state of Iraq. His desire is to build a "strong foundation" in Baghdad, he says, but it's a tall order with the current generation. "Loyalty is the biggest problem. The security forces don't have loyalty to the country. They're loyal to the different parties, or other forces," he says. "The generation that was born in the '80s, during the war with Iran, that generation is very dangerous. They're not really educated, they don't have the right outlook on life."
This goes for his own policemen as well as for the country at large. "It's impossible to educate these people, and you can't build a base with them. The issue is this generation -- I can do nothing," Saleh says. The best he can do is train his men to believe in a unified, strong Iraq, but, strikingly for a man esteemed as a can-do commander, Saleh feels he's fighting a rising tide. When I tell him he sounds like he's saying Iraq is destined to get worse and worse, he replies, "I believe so."