Good cop, fat cop: Iraq cracks down on pudgy police

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Ihsan Ghaidan, a policeman in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces, admits he stands little chance of promotion and notes his performance is increasingly under the microscope, for one simple reason.

He is overweight, and Iraq's security leaders are not happy.

In fact, he is not just overweight -- standing 177 cm (five feet nine inches) and weighing 116 kilograms (256 pounds), Ghaidan is obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health's online body mass index calculator.

And Ghaidan is among those whom Iraq's security forces want to put the squeeze on. By one measure, the vast majority of soldiers and policemen in his province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, are overweight.

"My body is not fit, and that is definitely affecting my movement while on duty," he told AFP.

"My movement is usually slow, and especially during raids, to the extent that I sometimes have to stay and guard cars, just in case there is a chase, which I cannot do."

Iraq's laws regulating the military and police require that all members meet certain health and fitness requirements, and officials are increasingly demanding that the rules be strictly applied.

According to Dolir Hassan, a provincial councillor in Diyala, which still suffers near-daily violence, between 70 and 80 percent of the police and army in the province are obese.

"Most sufferers of this disease are officers, because of the lack of oversight," he complained.

Weight problems are common among Iraqi policemen, largely as a result of lax internal health and fitness standards, little daily exercise, and unhealthy diets heavy on meat and light on greens.

Hassan said in previous decades an overweight officer risked being brought before a supervisory committee that had the power to fire the offending member of the security forces.

Now, however, such an apparatus has fallen out of use, but top officials are pushing for tough rules to be applied to the letter.

"We ordered, three months ago, to return to old promotion regulations, which require (police) to not be obese, and to be at a normal weight," Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi told AFP.

He said that this represented the best hope of reducing weight en masse among the security forces -- those who do not comply will not be promoted.

However, in a country where corruption in the security forces remains a key problem, whether the rules will be strictly applied remains an open question.

Ex-army officer Abduljabbar Abdulrahman recalled that warnings would be issued to anyone in the police and the army whose weight was ballooning, and officers up for promotion would often be forced to exercise to meet minimum fitness requirements.

At the time, before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Iraqi army still struggled with overweight soldiers, though those were primarily conscripts who were not forced to maintain a healthy weight, Abdulrahman noted.

But the crackdown on overweight police is not just happening in Iraq.

Earlier this year in Pakistan, in what local newspapers have dubbed "the battle of the bulge," a Pakistani police commander ordered tens of thousands of pot-bellied officers to diet or quit frontline duties.

"I think these new rules are right. I work out every day and so far I have lost 10 kilograms. This is better for our health and our appearance," one Pakistani officer told Al Arabiya.

At least 50 percent of Punjab police are overweight, officials have said. The commander has ordered 175,000 personnel not to allow their waistlines to exceed 38 inches.

"Our approach is to reform them, to provide them [with] opportunities because their environment was like that; they were not answerable to all these things. There was no standard. But now we have set the standard; we have to reform them, provide them [with] the opportunity and the facilities," a senior police official told Al Arabiya, while overseeing his team's workout drills.

The campaign has cracked down on all officers, even senior police officials have been encouraged to lose the belly.

"Before we didn't have time to exercise, but now we do. Two weeks ago my waist measured 40 inches, and now it is 37," another proud police officer said.

The hope is that overweight police officers will now become more active, shed those extra pounds and be able to get stuck into intensive daily police duties.

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