Can a New York Cop Tame Baghdad?

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Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner running Iraq's Interior Ministry, has an unusual take on the wave of attacks on American soldiers that claimed five lives last week. It's an encouraging sign of change, he says. "It gives me the sense that the rule of law is taking hold and the freeing up of Iraqi society is working," Kerik tells TIME. "There are people in pockets of resistance who have lost a lot of power, and as Iraq blossoms and flourishes, these groups are going to come out and rebel. That's a clear sign of a free Iraq."

Kerik is nothing if not upbeat about the direction in which Iraq is heading. He does have a precedent to go by, having helped Mayor Rudolph Giuliani achieve impressive reductions in New York City crime. Baghdad's new sheriff acknowledges that his current job is an even tougher undertaking. "Someone driving down the street, pulling out a gun and doing a drive-by shooting is one thing," he notes. "Here, somebody rolls down their back window, pulls out an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] and blows up the entire precinct. It's a slightly different ball game."

Still, Kerik claims to have seen "a 100% change" for the better in just his first week on the job: "People are starting to feel more confident. They're coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened." Anyway, he's used to hearing citizens gripe that nothing has improved. "In New York City in 1994, crime was coming down two weeks after Giuliani took over. But people didn't feel it for two years. It's going to take time."

While the U.S. has tried to push Iraqi faces into the forefront of government activity, designating American officials as "advisers" to the coalition-appointed Iraqi ministers, Kerik has assumed complete authority over the police forces. "I run the Interior Ministry," he says. Not bad for a boy from Paterson, N.J., who was abandoned by his mother when he was 4. Kerik is starting largely from scratch. Because the allies destroyed the ministry's old 12-story headquarters, the entire department is working out of a 10-ft.-by-12-ft. office. Only 15 of the civil servants who used to work in the ministry's head office are back on the job.

Kerik's team is focusing on reopening Baghdad's police stations and getting cops back on the streets as a first priority. According to Kerik, between 7,000 and 9,000 officers have returned to their jobs in Baghdad; before the war, the force totaled 16,000. The Kerik team says it is vetting officers for connections to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and for past human-rights abuses. Those who are rehired must undergo retraining in what Kerik calls "the principles of democratic policing."

To signify the changes under way, Baghdad police officers have new uniforms