With Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD - More than 400 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the occupation
began in March 2003. Many more Iraqis have been kidnapped, but it is the abduction
of foreigners that makes news, and makes them particular targets.
Last week, another American was kidnapped in Baghdad. Jill Carroll, a reporter
for the Christian Science Monitor, was abducted in the Adel neighborhood.
This was the latest in a recent upsurge of foreigner kidnappings.
Kidnapping emerged as a major risk for foreigners in Iraq in 2004. A string
of kidnappings of journalists and aid workers that year paralyzed civilian operations.
The problem eventually settled down, but not before drastically changing the
face of foreign civilian operations.
Last year, journalists increasingly limited their movements. The bravest of
the lot confined themselves to their hotels and their security regime. Almost
all international aid organizations pulled out of Iraq.
There are still about 40 kidnapped foreigners unaccounted for, ostensibly detained
by their captors.
There have been two major types of kidnapping. The most common is for ransom.
The second is the abduction of foreigners primarily for political reasons and
to obstruct the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.
Criminal gangs who had been active before the invasion flourished in the early
days after the invasion when the government collapsed and the coalition forces
failed to maintain security and order. For some others too, crime became a means
of survival and even of gaining prosperity.
Jawad Kathum, 31, had to pay a heavy price for the abduction of his nephew.
"My nephew was kidnapped by one of these gangs in Baghdad, and they made
us pay $20,000 for his return," he told IPS.
Such stories are common; nearly everyone knows someone who has been kidnapped.
The kidnappers almost always demand heavy ransom. "We were forced to sell
our house in order to release my nephew because there was no one who could rescue
him," Jawad said.
"I think the United States is responsible, because we didn't have kidnappings
happen before the occupation," he added.
Greg Rollins, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and a friend of
four members of the group who were kidnapped in November, also said the occupation
forces were fundamentally to blame for the large number of kidnappings.
"If the coalition forces had come to Iraq and repaired the electricity
and water supplies, provided employment and other services, I don't think the
kidnapping would be as bad as it is now," he told IPS. "And if they
stop attacking cities and towns like Ramadi, Rawa, Tal Afar, Hit, al-Qaim and
others, stop arresting people, and take their bases out of cities and towns,
there will be a lot less violence and kidnapping."
Greg Rollins' teammates were kidnapped Nov. 26 in what now appears to have
been the first of a new wave of kidnappings. The Christian Peacemaker Teams
had stayed on despite the wave of foreigner kidnappings in 2004, which resulted
in several deaths.
CPT members continue to live among Iraqi people. "Our team wants to make
peace and needs to talk to the people in the street, to real Iraqi people,"
Rollins told IPS. "I have spoken to people who live in the green zone before.
I asked what are Iraqis like? They said, 'We don't know what Iraqis are like,
we don't leave the green zone.'"
There is disagreement over the impact of the kidnappings. "No one gains
more than the coalition forces," said Jawad. "Because in April 2004
there were many journalists in Fallujah, but they were afraid of the kidnappings,
and in November 2004, there were no foreign journalists there, and the United
States didn't allow the Iraqi journalists to enter." The U.S. Army launched
extensive operations in Fallujah both times.
"The kidnappings in Iraq have become very dangerous now, more than ever
before," an Iraqi police officer who wished to remain anonymous told IPS.
"It is because no one listens to Iraqis talk about their suffering. That's
why they kidnap foreigners, because it makes people and governments all around
the world listen to them."