Iraq: Baghdad kidnappers targeting women, children

Middle East Times
The abduction of women and children has become a lucrative business for gangs in many parts of Iraq and particularly in Baghdad. Women are so fearful of being kidnapped that they rarely go out alone, and hire taxis to go to work.
The victims are normally from wealthy families, but kidnapping is so widespread that even ordinary families cannot feel safe.
Women and children are easy prey because, unlike many men in Iraq these days, they usually do not carry guns; and families respond very quickly to ransom demands for women because they are deeply concerned about their reputation.

Shakir Jumaa, 35, a car dealer in Baghdad, immediately paid $30,000 for his kidnapped teenager daughter who was released unharmed a day later.

Reliable data about the number of women kidnappings is hard to obtain. A source in the ministry of women's affairs, on condition of anonymity, said that they have no figures and that the ministry of interior declined to pass such data on to them.

NGOs have come up with figures but they are hard to verify. For instance, Yanar Mohammed, head of the Women's Freedom Organization, claimed in a press conference last month that about 2,000 women have been kidnapped in Iraq over the last three years.

Some suggest that this is a rather conservative estimate. A police lieutenant colonel, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that most cases go unreported because families prefer direct negotiation with kidnappers to lessen the risk of their abducted loved ones being harmed.

But families also refrain from contacting law enforcers out of suspicion of links between the latter and the kidnap gangs. Indeed, people who've witnessed abductions speak of victims being taken away by men in police uniforms and driving police cars.

These concerns are further fueled by the fact that few kidnappers are ever caught.

With so many women apparently being abducted, there are worries that some are falling into the hands of sex-traffickers. In a recent police raid on a house in the southern Baghdad suburb of Dora, officers discovered two kidnapped women together with forged passports - an indication that the abductors were preparing to traffic them abroad, said senior police officer Thair Hamid.

Women have turned into "cheap and exchangeable goods" in Iraq, according to the Women's Freedom organization.

Children are not safe either. Suad Muhsin, 19, sobs and clings to her mother as she recounts how her brother Sabah, 12, was kidnapped in Baghdad's Sha'ab district three months ago, right in front of her eyes.

Muhsin stood on the family's balcony in the afternoon and watched Sabah who was playing down below.

A car with three men stopped nearby, one of them, a man of average build in a suit, called her brother by his name. She first thought Sabah had been fighting with some boys and the man was trying to intervene - but then he forced Sabah into the car and drove off.

The kidnappers contacted the Muhsins by phone, demanding a ID12 million ($8,000) ransom. A week later they paid, leaving the money in a tissue box on a pavement in the Jadeeda district of the capital, as the kidnappers had ordered.

A few hours later, Sabah's body was found in a garbage dump, a stone's throw from his parents' house.

"Iraq has turned into a jungle where the powerful defeat the weak without fear of God," said Suad angrily. "Saddam has gone and left behind [criminals] to roam freely."

Shortly before the fall of his regime, Saddam issued a general amnesty, under which about 100,000 prisoners were released. Many Iraqis believe that the ex-president's parting has significantly contributed to the surge in kidnappings and other crimes in the capital over the last few years.

Musin Ahmed, Sabah's father, who owns property in Baghdad and lets shops and houses, suspects that organized crime is behind the kidnappings, "How else would they know who I am, how wealthy I am - and how would they get my phone number and other information?"

Duraed Salman
October 5, 2006