|BAGHDAD, April 10, 2006 — On a small base in Baghdad a group of men are training to be the bodyguards of Iraq’s leaders and key officials. These men believe that they are also training to protect the future of Iraq.
|"Seeing Iraqis teaching Iraqis plants the seed of hope in the hearts of my countrymen who have chosen to come here. Here they see that freedom is possible and that we can achieve it if we apply ourselves."
Iraqi Sgt. Maj. Qahhtan
At hearing the word bodyguard, most Americans might visualize a large muscular man clad in a perfectly pressed black suit with a radio earpiece in his ear and a pistol hidden discreetly along the back of his belt. Or perhaps an image of the U.S. Secret Service escorting the president comes to mind.
In Baghdad however, the image is quite different. A bodyguard in Iraq often times looks like a soldier. He can be seen wearing a Kevlar helmet and bullet-proof vest, carrying an automatic rifle and a pistol attached to his leg in a tactical holster and numerous magazines of ammunition strapped to his chest. To be a bodyguard in this country is extremely dangerous and they have to be well-armed and well-equipped to handle any situation.
In Iraq they informally call bodyguards “personal security details” and they are vital to the security of Iraqi officials and dignitaries. Therefore, the government has established the Center for Dignitary Protection, a unit within the police force that is similar to the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security.
Before candidates can take on the formal title of a Center for Dignitary Protection officer, they have to go through a mentally and physically intensive six month course.
The main reason that the course is so tough is because the instructors know what the students will face once they get assigned to a dignitary, according to Blackie, the coalition’s head instructor, who uses his call sign for security purposes.
“The environment and threats in this country are much different than the ones in the states. As a [personal security detail officer] in the states, most of your threats are someone running up with a knife or a pistol,” said Blackie. “In Iraq, the possibility of getting ambushed or blown up is very real.”
Blackie has more than 15 years experience as a personal security detail oficer and helped to protect U.S. President George W. Bush at one point. He said that he and other coalition advisors designed the course to be more like a military academy than a police academy.
He said the students live in barracks and have inspections daily. For the first phase of this two-phase course, they are pushed to the limit physically and mentally.
“The first 12 weeks (phase one) in the academy they learn weapons handling techniques, [personal security detail] formations, rules of engagement, computer skills and motorcade skills,” Blackie said.
He added that the second phase is what really separates this course from any other police course that he knows of. During phase two, students become the instructors – they teach phase one of the course to new students.
“In order to graduate, I not only had to (complete) the twelve-week course, but I had to spend the next twelve weeks as an instructor,” Iraqi Police Captain Emad, chief academy instructor, said through an interpreter.