Baghdad — Pounding her Baghdad beat, wrapped in a bulletproof vest and brandishing a pistol, Sgt. Bushra Jabar stands out in the new Iraq.
She's the only woman in the Iraqi Army unit patrolling the Kharkh district in the Iraqi capital.
"Sometimes women on the street think I'm a man, from my uniform and gun," says Jabar, 34. "The other soldiers use a man's version of my name to call me."
Her day starts with a ride to her base in the back of a military pickup truck. She's wearing a tight orange blouse, her fingernails painted black with white dots, her black hair flowing in the wind. Occasionally she waves her pistol at other vehicles to get out of the way.
Then the mother of four changes into camouflage fatigues, tucks her hair under a cap and hits the streets.
She has been in the Iraqi Army for two years, but her platoon leader, Lt. Raad Abid Jassim, doesn't sound enthusiastic about having her in his unit in a religious neighborhood.
"We are in a poor neighborhood. People don't like it. The women are insulted," he said. "Men complain to me about her clothes."
As Jabar strides down the street, she draws snickers from women covered from head to toe in abayas."For them, it's amazing," Jabar said. "Maybe it's the first time they see a woman with a uniform or with pants."
The young girls she meets are fascinated, asking her questions and posing with her for pictures.
Jabar says she was a tomboy in her youth and liked to play soccer with the boys. "When I was a kid, I didn't like to be a girl," she said.
When Saddam Hussein was in power and recruiting volunteers for a militia, she stepped forward. Then came the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the dictator.
"When the Americans first came to Iraq, I asked them the same: Is there a way to be a soldier?"
She needs the job. Her husband is unemployed, and the family depends on her salary of 509,000 dinars a month, about $340.