Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Baghdad — Crowds are still way below prewar levels at one of Baghdad's busiest fruit and vegetable markets, where many shoppers still fear lawlessness — pickpockets in the market and car thieves in streets outside.

Yet, those fears should be easing soon as Iraq's new police slowly retake the streets.

Iraqi police, clearly visible in their brand-new blue uniforms, patrol the perimeter of the market.

Unnoticed, plainclothesmen work indoors, blending with shoppers until someone shouts "Ali Baba! Ali Baba!" — the Iraqi vernacular for thief...

Iraqis have cited the security situation and a sense of general lawlessness in the streets as one of the biggest blocks on the road to a free and one-day democratic Iraq.

Thousands of Iraqi men have been recruited and trained to guard public facilities — banks, government ministries, power plants.

Thousands who worked with Saddam Hussein's fallen regime and were dismissed have come back to work, patrolling alone or with coalition forces day and night throughout the capital, capturing car thieves and smugglers of ancient Iraqi artifacts.

Thousands more have enlisted and trained to work in customs and immigration.

There are over a thousand traffic police on the beat, trying to persuade impatient Iraqis to follow the rules of the road.

And thousands of others have slipped undercover against crime syndicates and kidnapping rings.

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