Iraq: March 5, 2005

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American troops often get the feeling they are in the middle of the ultimate gang war. Nearly all the violence against troops, police and civilians is controlled by gangs. Most of the Iraqi gangs are strictly about crime. Often, the crime is extortion and kidnapping, two techniques also used by the terrorists trying to bring the government down. The terrorists demand that people not work for the government (including providing information), or else. The gangsters demand money, and not to call the police, or else. When foreigners are kidnapped, the first thing you have to figure out is whether the victim was grabbed for ransom, or for political reasons. Increasingly, it's always for money, with politics often used in an effort to throw off the police investigation. The criminal and political gangs frequently work together, and the gangsters will help out with the terrorism, if the price is right.  Both criminal and political gangs are heavily armed, and will try to intimidate the police into leaving them alone. 

The politicians are also playing "if the price is right." Corruption is in full flower as political parties try to cut deals and build large enough coalitions to form a government. The U.S. is trying to short circuit the usual out-of-control corruption by backing a free media. Journalists love to chase after corrupt politicians. But most Arab countries are run by people who know how troublesome a free press can be, and strictly control it. That may yet happen in Iraq, but for the moment, thieving politicians have to worry about their depredations being made public.

Another new feature introduced by the Americans is aggressive policing. The Iraqis like the idea of the many special squads and SWAT teams, that build and work informant networks, then start taking gangs apart. One dangerous side effect is that the prisons are full, and most of those in custody are not innocent. In the past, Americans would pick up everyone in the vicinity of a raid. But Iraqi cops conduct, or are along, on most raids now, and they are able to spot the innocents, and leave them alone. Arrested Iraqis are in despair if Americans haul them off to prison, because the American guards cannot be bribed, although there are constant attempts. American prison officials are wondering how long it will be until Iraqi corruption taints American soldiers.

 

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