Most kidnappings in Iraq involve ransoms between $500 and half a million dollars, depending on the rank of the kidnapper and the victim.

The most popular targets are teenagers from affluent or influential families.

Marwan al-Hilli, 18, and a resident of Baghdad, was parking his car near his flat in the Salihiya district when two armed men aimed their guns at his head and told him he was being kidnapped.

He was held in a run-down house in east Baghdad and told his mother had looted a bank during the April 2003 lawlessness following the fall of Baghdad and could afford to pay for his release.

He tried to explain that his mother had died in 2001 but his kidnappers persisted, citing a neighbourhood source.

His sister, Fidaa, acted as negotiator and agreed to a $10,000 ransom.

Fidaa al-Hilli, 30, told Aljazeera.net: "Those monsters beat my brother so fiercely he suffered from it for months.

"He would scream as they tortured him while they spoke with me on the phone so I would accept their terms."

Fidaa agreed to pay the ransom but also appealed to the Iraqi police, an uncharacteristic move in kidnapping cases.

Family of kidnappers

Ten days later, the kidnappers were apprehended and al-Hilli freed, but not before it was revealed that one of the gang was a police officer.

His family pleaded with al-Hilli not to press charges fearing he would be kicked out of the force.

Aadhamiya resident Raya Al Obaidi, 10, has a different story.

Her kidnappers did not harm her or sexually assault her, as happens to some women.

They asked her father for $10,000 and promised she would be well cared for until he came up with the funds.

"They were so nice to me and I don't want any of you to say bad things about them"

Reya,
hostage

Her father was advised by the police to pay the ransom as quickly as possible to "protect the family's honour".

He sold his wife's jewellery and borrowed from his four brothers. Several days later, Raya was returned unharmed.

She told her family: "They were so nice to me and I don't want any of you to say bad things about them."

She said she had been taken by a family and could pinpoint their house. Her father decided not to pursue matters with the authorities.

While these kidnappings ended well for the victims and their families, many do not. Often the bodies of children are left in ditches or in front of their homes.

Unemployment

Sociologist Maath Ahmed Hassan, head of the National Education and Social Development Organisation, believes of unemployed men sometimes form gangs to take advantage of the unstable security situation.

With no other means of support, kidnapping offers a lucrative alternative.

Unemployment has led some to
chose criminal activity

For Jawad, 26, kidnapping was the only way he could provide for his extended family.

"I did kidnap more than one of those who collected money out of our sweat and blood, but then I quit doing it for religious reasons."

"I stopped it now and I am a better citizen than you are," he told Aljazeera.net.

He said his victims were affluent families who made money by taking advantage of the country's instability and embezzling thousands from state coffers.

When pressed to answer if his victims included former government officials he would only say that if their names were made public, he would no longer be viewed in a negative light.

"They were very bad - immoral people, believe me."

Street threats

A police captain from the Russafa Police Directory, who would give only his first name, Ahmed, believes the police are not capable of dealing with the number of cases.

"We manage to release some kidnapped people every now and then, but how can we do our jobs while we are under threat in the streets?"

He says the police are as likely to be kidnapped as civilians and blames insufficient arms, training and equipment for Iraq's security vacuum.

Iraqi police are also likely to be
victims of kidnapping

A Brookings Institute report on Iraq said up to 10 kidnappings occurred every day.

A retired Iraqi security manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blamed US mismanagement.

"When the son of Hassan Bunniya, the famous merchant, was kidnapped in the late 1990s, the Iraqi intelligence office succeeded to release him in less than 24 hours."

He explained that the security forces were given civilian support before the war.

"Now they are too afraid to provide the police with tips or help in any investigation lest they be killed themselves," he said.

Migration

Fearing a further escalation in violence, many Iraqis leaving Iraq. They sell off what belongings they have and flee to Syria, Jordan and, most recently, Egypt.

Jawad, who now works as a car dealer, says the chaos which allowed him to thrive as a kidnapper is too disruptive. He too is preparing to leave for Jordan.

And the Iraqis who cannot afford to leave, they resort to prayer and patience, hoping that stability will return.