Who's Fooling Whom at Iraqi Checkpoints?

A local staff member for Newsweek last week was stopped for a search of his car at a crossing where Iraqi soldiers usually let people pass by unhindered. This time, there were U.S. troops standing by.

He was met by a polite request. "Please pardon me if I ask you to open the trunk," the Iraqi soldier pleaded. "These Americans are looking at me and I don't want to appear lenient in front of them, OK?"

It could be that they wanted to search carefully and were just blaming the Americans in order to defuse anger among the commuters they were delaying. But more likely, they were truly just raising their standards until they were on their own.

The same kind of checkpoint chatter has been occurring around the capital and country for months as the coalition forces put Iraqis in the lead. Even checkpoints into the fortified Green Zone are said to grow lax when Americans are not within view.

That's the difficulty in assessing the Iraqi security forces. They are adept at showing their American partners what they want to see. What's needed is that tier of Iraqi leadership–mid-level officers now in short supply–that will enforce standards among their soldiers.

--With an Iraqi reporter in Baghdad