Saturday, January 22, 2005


Criminal Freedom

We hear a number of stories of killing and kidnapping in Baghdad every day. I will only outline three separate criminal incidents (that I know to be authentic) from this week’s harvest, to give a taste of what it is like to live in Baghdad these days.

Humanitarianism in Kidnapping

An elderly person of the Khanchi Baghdadi family was kidnapped several days ago. He had a heart attack in captivity during the negotiations for a ransom.

The kidnappers stood to loose their bargaining chip. They suggested replacing him by one of his sons so that he can have proper medical care… and so it was!

Queue Quarrel

If you drive by any gas (petrol) station in Baghdad, you can see several armed men – some in uniform, some in civilian clothes (private security guards hired by the station’s management to augment the police force).

A few days ago, near the entrance to such a gas station in a busy district of Baghdad, a dead man was lying on the street. He was covered with a blanket but you could still see his gray hair.

Having waited all night in the queue, a group of men in a car wanted to jump the queue and go in ahead of him. He refused and there was a quarrel. They simply shot him and drove away.

He was covered with the blanket he used to keep him warm during the long wait through the night.

Kidnapping Fools

Last Friday, someone I know was kidnapped. He was abducted by three men at gunpoint, right in front of his house. His family and friends kept calling him on his mobile phone. The following day, someone answered. He said that they represented the resistance and the man will be killed because he collaborated with the Americans, working as an interpreter. He was told that the man had nothing to do with the Americans or any other party. He was a businessman. The kidnapper said that they would check it out and kill the man if he was. They would send him in several pieces to his family. If he was “innocent”, the family would have to give a donation to the resistance! It was immediately obvious that this was a criminal gang.

The poor fellow came from Basra. He had no kin to speak of in Baghdad apart from his wife and two daughters. His brother-in-law took charge of the contact with the kidnappers. Slow, painful negotiations with the kidnappers, sprinkled with foul language, followed. They asked for $ 140, 000 or 14 “dafters” (notebooks) as the bundle of 100’s is now commonly known in Iraq.

At one stage, the fools forgot to switch off the telephone at the end of a call. The brother-in-law was able to listen to their conversation for almost half an hour. He found out several things about them: There were 14 people in that gang; he captured a few first names. One of them was a police sergeant. Their hideout was in a district just south of Baghdad called Abu Disheer. One of them was the brother of the floor tile layer working at the kidnapped man’s new home!

Yet, there was nothing the family could do about it! They couldn’t go to the police; the sergeant could have collaborators at the station. It is well known in Iraq that criminals had infiltrated the new police force in large numbers. [I must add that the force does have some decent people in it who try to do a good job.]

During the negotiations, the ransom went down to $10,000. The brother-in-law mildly (perhaps recklessly) hinted to some of the facts that he had discovered. They broke off all contact.

Last Wednesday evening, the man was beaten up badly, they extinguished three cigarettes on his forehead, “bagged” him, put him in the trunk of a car… and then released him in a deserted street in Baghdad.

Police Force

When will all these phenomena come to an end? I don’t know. Perhaps never, completely. But a start can at least be made when the police start going after criminals. So far, they are not interested. They seem to be more interested in going after “insurgents”.

Even when they take some shy steps in this direction, they are firmly put in place by stronger forces of reality.

Some time ago, a gang was caught red-handed and locked up in a police station in Baghdad. The following morning – and in broad daylight – the police station was attacked by a very large group of armed men, some of whom were positioned on the roofs of surrounding buildings. Within half an hour, the police force was cornered and all those imprisoned were released. They simply over-powered the police. Enforcement wasn’t sent… probably for fear of an ambush!

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