Kidnapped by your neighbours and friends in Iraq

Kidnapped by your neighbours and friends in Iraq
4 min read
20 December, 2015
Wealthy Iraqis are the target of kidnappings for ransom, crimes that are often committed by young men who join government-funded militias, are allowed to carry weapons and don't fear retribution.
Many militias are active in Iraq [AFP]
Kidnapping in Iraq has become an easy method to earn money and there does not seem to be an end of it any time soon.

Many young people - even teenagers - are finding it easier to resort to kidnapping than it is to find a job. Unemployed boys could join one of the government-funded militias for instance. This gives them a legal cover to carry weapons and act freely without hindrance or fear of punishment.

Abou Hamza disappeared for a whole year from his local market, the coffee shops and the street, the places he used to visit every day. He no longer leaves his house in Adhamiyah, a neighbourhood in the east-central district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Why? His son Hamza confessed on television to have committed crimes against his neighbours. His Shame and disgrace has brought him down that he now wishes his son had been killed before he had done anything wrong.

For 50 years Abou Hamza never shunned Adhamiyah's marketplace or streets, except when he was a soldier during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. He was known to be a good man who enjoyed life and was loved by his neighbours and his childhood friends.

Things changed when Hamza was arrested and confessed to have been part of a gang that had kidnapped and killed people, including long-time neighbours and friends of Abou Hamza's family.

Ali al-Zubaidi, a first Lieutenant in Baghdad's police force said that kidnappings have dramatically increased across the country.

"It is horrible," Zubaidi told The New Arab. The police receive many daily calls and reports about kidnapping incidents.
The gunmen travel in cars that belong to militias and they don't hesitate to shoot at policemen

- Lieutenant Zubaidi

"Many of the kidnappings occur in the midst of crowds, sometimes in front of security services, who cannot do their jobs and arrest the gunmen. The reason is that the gunmen travel in cars that belong to militias and they don't hesitate to shoot at policemen or even handcuff and arrest them," the first lieutenant explained.

The armed militias deny allegations of kidnapping and looting. They disassociate themselves from those who commit these crimes.

A leader in the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, Ali al-Saidi, did not rule out the presence of gangs, which "exploit their membership in Asaib Ahl al-Haq or other armed factions for personal benefits at the expense of the citizen."

Karim al-Oqabi, an Iraqi citizen, told The New Arab that being wealthy in the country constitutes a threat to the individual or his family. They could be killed or kidnapped, he said.

Until recently, Oqabi used to dream of reaping good profit from the sale of fish at his shop and expanding his business into fish farming, similar to Saleh, from whom he buys the fish.

But Saleh paid a heavy price when gunmen kidnapped his son and he had to pay the gang a large sum to release him.

Oqabi said that Saleh passed through very difficult times and "developed heart diseases" as a result of the incident. "This is what wealth brings to Iraqis today."
This is what wealth brings to Iraqis today

- Iraqi citizen

Radi al-Ali had a similar story. He was a wealth Iraqi citizen until recently and used to advise the rich to invest in ways that would strengthen the local economy and provide jobs to the unemployed in order for these investments to be "blessed by God," as he put it.

Ali told The New Arab that he had to pay a $100 thousand ransom to return his grandson who was kidnapped by gangs two years ago. Ali's wife had a heart attack and died of grief when she heard the news of her grandchild's kidnapping. The child's parents also developed illnesses, he said.

Ali left the country after he liquidated his assets.

"Leave with your money, families and children, for there is no safety in Iraq," is Ali's new advice to the rich today.

An Iraqi police investigator in Baghdad who preferred not to be named told The New Arab that most kidnapping incidents are carried out with the participation of people who are close to the victim and "sometimes relatives or neighbours," who know very well if their target or a member of his family is capable of paying a ransom.

A security source told The New Arab that the current kidnappings in Iraq either have a political purpose or financial motivations. In the latter, he said, the victim is usually released after the gang receives a ransom. Sometimes the kidnappers kill their victims in case their identities were revealed to them.