BAQUBA – Residents of Baquba deny police claims that kidnappings are now a matter of the past.
"There are fewer people disappearing, but it continues," a trader who asked to be referred to as Abu Ali told IPS. "All of us know that several people are still being kidnapped every week."
A local sheikh, speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity, said that many from his tribe have been kidnapped in just the last three weeks.
"This sectarian security operation is targeting Sunnis," the sheikh said. "At least ten people from my tribe alone, all of them Sunnis, have been kidnapped, and we suspect it is by people with the government."
A police captain, Ali Khadem, told IPS that "no kidnapping actions were reported in the city in the last four months." Baquba is capital of Diyala province, just northeast of Baghdad.
Residents say that while the number of kidnappings may have declined, the fear continues. Underscoring the volatility of the province, the Iraqi government issued an order Aug. 27 banning residents from keeping weapons.
Baquba has seen more than its share of kidnappings. Those responsible are believed widely to be members of various militias, or simply common criminals looking for quick money.
"When we were going to our jobs, we did not know whether we would get back home or not," Hisham Ibrahim, a local laborer, told IPS. "Everyday, we felt the same fear and horror. And now, even though it’s better, we don’t know when this horror will return."
The usual kidnapping style is for armed militants to drive up with their faces covered to the victim’s house, office or shop, or sometimes corner him on the street. The victim is overpowered, and dumped into the boot. The kidnappers then demand ransom, usually making video films of the victim.
Often a killing is also filmed. "Near our house, there was a place we used to call the execution zone," a trader told IPS on terms of anonymity. "I myself saw a cameraman with the militants in every action."
Another resident, also speaking on terms of anonymity, told IPS he had witnessed executions of kidnapped men. "They brought kidnapped men blindfolded, with their hands tied, lined them up on the street, and shot them one by one."
"My wife has been sick ever since she saw these killings from our house," Nasir Abbas, a local resident who lives on Majara Avenue told IPS. Many kidnapped persons have been executed here.
Some of the kidnappings have been at random. "The militants might ask anyone on the street about his identity," says Abdul-Jalil Khalil, a local trader. "They take him to their stronghold for questioning. When they find he is their sect, they release him. If not, they kill him."
A local man who was kidnapped told IPS what he went through.
"Militants attacked me in the market. They forced me into the boot of a car. After reaching their place, they got me out of the boot, tied my hands and covered my eyes. They poisoned me with something that made me sick, along with several other people in a room.
"They were shouting and insulting us. They whipped me with a cable and a nylon tube on my back and legs. After a few hours, they took me to another room. There I met the leader, they called him the prince. He asked me about my sect, tribe, job, relatives, etc. The prince decided to release me after three days."
Many others are never released. Or even recorded as ever having been kidnapped.