Iraq Kidnappings Worse ‘Than Ever Before’

With Isam Rashid

BAGHDAD – More than 400 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the occupation began in March 2003. Many more Iraqis have been kidnapped, but it is the abduction of foreigners that makes news, and makes them particular targets.

Last week, another American was kidnapped in Baghdad. Jill Carroll, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, was abducted in the Adel neighborhood. This was the latest in a recent upsurge of foreigner kidnappings.

Kidnapping emerged as a major risk for foreigners in Iraq in 2004. A string of kidnappings of journalists and aid workers that year paralyzed civilian operations. The problem eventually settled down, but not before drastically changing the face of foreign civilian operations.

Last year, journalists increasingly limited their movements. The bravest of the lot confined themselves to their hotels and their security regime. Almost all international aid organizations pulled out of Iraq.

There are still about 40 kidnapped foreigners unaccounted for, ostensibly detained by their captors.

There have been two major types of kidnapping. The most common is for ransom. The second is the abduction of foreigners primarily for political reasons and to obstruct the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.

Criminal gangs who had been active before the invasion flourished in the early days after the invasion when the government collapsed and the coalition forces failed to maintain security and order. For some others too, crime became a means of survival and even of gaining prosperity.

Jawad Kathum, 31, had to pay a heavy price for the abduction of his nephew. "My nephew was kidnapped by one of these gangs in Baghdad, and they made us pay $20,000 for his return," he told IPS.

Such stories are common; nearly everyone knows someone who has been kidnapped. The kidnappers almost always demand heavy ransom. "We were forced to sell our house in order to release my nephew because there was no one who could rescue him," Jawad said.

"I think the United States is responsible, because we didn’t have kidnappings happen before the occupation," he added.

Greg Rollins, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and a friend of four members of the group who were kidnapped in November, also said the occupation forces were fundamentally to blame for the large number of kidnappings.

"If the coalition forces had come to Iraq and repaired the electricity and water supplies, provided employment and other services, I don’t think the kidnapping would be as bad as it is now," he told IPS. "And if they stop attacking cities and towns like Ramadi, Rawa, Tal Afar, Hit, al-Qaim and others, stop arresting people, and take their bases out of cities and towns, there will be a lot less violence and kidnapping."

Greg Rollins’ teammates were kidnapped Nov. 26 in what now appears to have been the first of a new wave of kidnappings. The Christian Peacemaker Teams had stayed on despite the wave of foreigner kidnappings in 2004, which resulted in several deaths.

CPT members continue to live among Iraqi people. "Our team wants to make peace and needs to talk to the people in the street, to real Iraqi people," Rollins told IPS. "I have spoken to people who live in the green zone before. I asked what are Iraqis like? They said, ‘We don’t know what Iraqis are like, we don’t leave the green zone.’"

There is disagreement over the impact of the kidnappings. "No one gains more than the coalition forces," said Jawad. "Because in April 2004 there were many journalists in Fallujah, but they were afraid of the kidnappings, and in November 2004, there were no foreign journalists there, and the United States didn’t allow the Iraqi journalists to enter." The U.S. Army launched extensive operations in Fallujah both times.

"The kidnappings in Iraq have become very dangerous now, more than ever before," an Iraqi police officer who wished to remain anonymous told IPS. "It is because no one listens to Iraqis talk about their suffering. That’s why they kidnap foreigners, because it makes people and governments all around the world listen to them."

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