Iraq's postwar kidnapping crime wave

Although world attention has focused on the fate of dozens of foreigners kidnapped in Iraq over the past week, the story of hundreds of other victims has received scant publicity.

    Women are especially vulnerable to abduction by criminal gangs

    Living with her family in the Kathum district of Baghdad, Aisha, a 21-year-old university student in her third year, used to view the future with healthy optimism.

    But that changed one hot summer night when two men stormed into her bedroom and seized her while the rest of her family were asleep.

    The intense heat had driven her parents to sleep on the flat roof – a seasonal habit for many Iraqis. And so they failed to hear Aisha's cries for help before the two men overpowered her, taped her mouth shut and blindfolded her.

    Although several months have passed since her ordeal, Aisha's face still pales as she recounts the story.

    The kidnappers drove her to another location and put her in a room with two other women around the same age as her.

    Outside the room where Aisha was held stood a female guard, who brought the women food and water. The guard insisted nothing worse would happen to them – provided their families paid the ransom.

    Two days after her abduction, Aisha's family received their first ransom demand. The kidnappers called to say they wanted $20,000 by the following day, or Aisha would be killed.

    Security void

    Aisha may have been targeted because her father was a senior figure in one of Saddam Hussein's brutal security agencies and, consequently, he made a lot of enemies during his tenure.

    Postwar Iraq is a country where revenge attacks and the settling of scores have become the norm.

    The lack of law and order tops
    women's concerns in Iraq

    But postwar Iraq also suffers from a huge lack of security. Cars are stolen at gunpoint on a daily basis, symbolising a surge in random crime. But it is the quasi-organised variety that frightens many.

    Kidnappings have skyrocketed – though accurate statistics do not exist because few incidents are reported to the police, who are widely viewed with mistrust and regarded as ineffective.

    "It's a growing trend, a new business in Iraq," says the deputy police chief for Baghdad, Raad Yasir.

    Women are most at risk. According to the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, the abduction and rape of women has become an almost daily occurence; during a four month period last year, the rights group reported 400 such kidnappings.

    Yasir says stories of hundreds of kidnappings each month are exaggerated. But he admits the two or three incidents reported to his colleagues each week reveals only part of the true picture.

    "Many people try to resolve matters themselves, or pay up the money," Yasir told Aljazeera.net.

    Exchange

    In Aisha's case, the kidnappers told her parents the exchange would take place on a quiet road on the outskirts of their municipality.

    Her father agreed – but then, ignored the kidnappers' instructions completely.

    Enraged, the kidnappers called back the following day and warned Aisha's mother they would kill her daughter unless the ransom was delivered the next day.

    A different location was arranged – a Shia mosque in another municipality.

    That day, the kidnappers had Aisha dressed head to toe in black - the traditional Shia dress – and took her to a large mosque, which had seven entry gates.

    The kidnappers forced her to stand by one gate and look as if she were collecting donations.

    To this day, she says, "I’ll never be able to explain my luck."

    Escape and revenge

    While she stood by the gate, a huge group of Iranian Shia women began walking into the mosque. Aisha seized the opportunity to run for her life.

    Camouflaged by the sea of black around her, Aisha ran past several other gates until she saw a motorist parked by the side of the road.

    Aisha was able to hide among a
    large group of Shia Muslims

    "He thought I was crazy," she says, "hitting the bonnet of his car, crying and screaming at the same time; I pleaded with the man to help me and take me home."

    Thirty minutes later she was home. Both parents were also there, since the father had again refused to comply with the kidnappers' demands.

    However, the kidnappers may have exacted their revenge on her father. A week after the failed ransom bid, his brother was shot dead outside his home.

    Aisha's family have since moved to an undisclosed location in Baghdad.

    Nevertheless, she hardly leaves her home as she continues to live in terror of being kidnapped again.

    But Aisha is lucky: not many people escape kidnappings and live to tell the tale.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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