*with Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD - It is widely accepted that Iraq's recent crime problems began with
Saddam Hussein's general amnesty declaration in October 2002. It is also widely
believed the crime wave reached a high in April 2003 with the collapse of Saddam's
seat of power in Baghdad.
Given the porous borders and the focus of security forces on the war, criminals
of all kinds gained a stronger foothold within Iraq. Today criminals and thugs
are considered as difficult a problem as terrorism and the intransigent resistance.
"There are many kinds of crimes in Iraq now – robbery, murder, kidnapping,
revenge, rape and drugs," an Iraqi police officer told IPS. "There
are new crimes we didn't know before that are killing many innocent people in
the name of resistance. Like the attacks that have happened many times like
car bombs near schools, markets, and other places."
Today, nearly three years into the occupation, there are few places considered
safe from crime. People are attacked in their homes regularly in some parts
Twenty-year-old Abdullah Sabah, currently unemployed, was robbed in his house
in Baghdad last year. "In November 2005 my family's home was robbed by
one of the gangs," he told IPS. "They threatened my family with guns,
and they stole all our money and many other things."
Crimes like this have become ubiquitous in Iraqis' daily lives. Sabah blames
the Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I). The failure of these forces to secure
Iraq and to live up to obligations under international law has left many Iraqis
bitter and frustrated.
"When they occupied Iraq they helped thieves to rob banks," Sabah
said. "The occupation forces helped them because the thieves were stealing
in front of the soldiers and they did nothing. When we asked them to stop the
thieves the occupation forces' answer was: 'We are soldiers not police, this
is not our job'."
It was then that the problem began. Eventually the money raised through these
crimes was lost through gambling and spent on other things such as liquor and
drugs. After they ran out of money, gangs began fighting one another to gain
money and power.
Some gangs began to attack the professional class. "Another new kind of
crime is the murder of Iraqi scholars, pilots, doctors, and teachers,"
the Iraqi police officer said. "The people who do that know very well what
they are doing. It is organized crime, a mafia you can say, and they want to
destroy Iraq by these crimes."
One of these gangs kidnapped 14-year-old Hassan. "The gangs called me
and asked for a ransom of 100,000 dollars," his father Thaer, a car dealer,
High ransom demands have been typical in kidnappings. Iraqis often report initial
demands ranging from 20,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars. These demands are usually
drastically reduced later, sometimes to only a few hundred dollars.
Iraqis who do not have the money to pay usually attempt to make a deal with
the kidnapper, or call the police. Thaer did both.
"I didn't have this money, so after two days I started to negotiate with
them to lower the ransom," he said. "At the same time I called the
police, but the police were still weak at that time. The police used my cars
to follow the gang. The gang released my son because the police caught one of
them. But in that operation one of the police was wounded and my cousin was
Such crimes were unknown in Iraq under Saddam. Before the war, the only kidnapping
Iraqis worried about were those carried out by Saddam's secret police. Iraqis
knew that if they did not challenge Saddam's political mandate, they could expect
to remain relatively secure.
"We lived in this country before the war and there was safety," Thaer
said. "Nothing has changed except the occupation. It is the only new thing;
that means the occupation bears a big responsibility for the crime in Iraq."
Salem says the crime will stop only when the occupation ends and Iraqis take
care of themselves. "I feel sad for my country and I wish the Iraqi government
builds a good and strong security system as quickly as possible," he said.
"There is no hope from occupation forces. They work for their security
only, and they don't care about Iraq."