Iraq’s security situation has greatly improved since the height of the sectarian war. Now Iraqis are facing a new danger, rising crime. In fact, the two issues are linked as many blame former insurgents and militiamen for carrying out kidnappings, robberies, etc., as they have no other means to support themselves. Members of the security forces have also been implicated, pointing to the high levels of every day corruption that exists in the country.
Crime in Iraq takes many forms. One that is getting increasing press is kidnapping. Those occurred before, but they had political or sectarian overtones or were done to fund militant groups. Today they are increasingly for pure profit. As a sign of this change, children are becoming a favorite target. There are districts of Baghdad that are plastered with photos of missing kids. The Times of London reported in early October 2009 that the price for a kidnapped child can go as high as $100,000. Many families are said to negotiate with the criminals rather than go to the police.
High-profile robberies are also increasing. The most famous recent case was in July 2009 when members of a Vice President’s security detail held up the Rafidain Bank in Baghdad, stealing $4.8 million and killing 8 people. In August four men with IDs from the Interior Ministry robbed a bank in the capital, and in mid-October thieves held up three jewelry stores in Baghdad as well. In the latter case, 12-15 armed men got out of a minibus and robbed the businesses, while a checkpoint nearby did nothing. Six soldiers and an officer were subsequently arrested for failing to secure the area.
Smuggling is another major issue. This began during Saddam’s time, and has probably increased since then. One reason is because when the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi security forces in 2003 they did away with the border guards, which are only now getting attention. One major item stolen within Iraq and smuggled is oil. A December 2008 audit of the state-run North Oil Company found that 698,000 barrels of oil could be not accounted for, with crime being the major cause. This is another example of a trade that was begun by insurgents to pay for their operations, that is now done increasingly for personnel gain.
There is also a growing sex market for young Iraqi girls. There was a report in Time magazine in March 2009 that said tens of thousands of girls were believed to have been shipped off by criminal gangs to countries like Syria, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.
A military spokesman in Baghdad said that former militants and gangs are responsible for 60-70% of the crimes investigated in the capital. With the decline in insurgent, and especially Shiite militia and Special Group activities, and a bad labor market, there is little to do for many young men. That is probably the number one reason for the increase in criminal behavior. Iraq has set up a special task force to go after gangs following a series of jewel robberies in April 2009. On the other hand, the press reports that the authorities have blocked investigations of the sex trade. The high levels of corruption amongst the security forces might also undermine this work. It also shows that while security has improved, law and order has yet to be established in Iraq.
Abouzeid, Rania, “Iraq’s Unspeakable Crime: Mothers Pimping Daughters,” Time, 3/7/09
Bakri, Nada, “Eight Killed In Baghdad Jewel Heists,” Washington Post, 10/15/09
Denselow, James, “The thieves of Baghdad,” Guardian, 10/9/09
Kerbaj, Richard, “Child hostages offer quick way for Iraqi gangsters to make money,” Times of London, 10/7/09
Miller, Deborah, “Iraqis face new threat: brutal violence,” Cleveland Plain Dealer,” 9/21/09
Oppel, Richard, “Iraq’s Insurgency Runs on Stolen Oil Profits,” New York Times, 3/16/08
Williams, Timothy, “As Iraq Seeks Oil Investors, They See an Uncertain Bet,” New York Times, 10/14/09