Iraq: Gunpoint kidnappings 'getting out of control'

Iraq: Gunpoint kidnappings 'getting out of control'
A recent of wave of kidnappings in Baghdad, some targeting government officials, coincides with reforms announced by the government of Haidar al-Abadi and tensions with powerful former PM Nouri al-Maliki
3 min read
10 September, 2015
Iraq's increasingly powerful militias have been blamed for many recent kidnappings [AFP]

Kidnappings at gunpoint have recently increased in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, sparing neither ordinary citizens nor government officials. These kidnappings are widely blamed on armed militias roaming the streets.

Senior officials, tribal leaders, entrepreneurs, clerics and ordinary citizens have often been nabbed in sight of the army and police or near their checkpoints, as the security services seem helpless to put an end to the abductions.

The kidnapping of the deputy minister of justice in downtown Baghdad caused great embarrassment to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his government, which has launched a drive for reforms.

According to Ministry of Interior reports, no fewer than six people are kidnapped daily from Baghdad.

Kidnappings have escalated since early August, and to date, up to 127 people have been kidnapped, including, in addition to the deputy minister, Turkish workers, an official at the cabinet, an army officer and an assistant investigator working with the inquiry into Mosul's fall to the Islamic State group last year.

Sadeq al-Husseini, security expert, said: "More than 30 militias are roaming in the capital, Baghdad. They have well-known headquarters and control entire blocks, erecting checkpoints that they use to kidnap figures and citizens for political or sectarian motives."

Husseini added: "Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cemented the influence of these militias in Baghdad and supported them extensively. The kidnapping of the deputy justice minister is an attempt by the militias to sabotage Abadi's attempt to reform the political process."

Two days ago, an armed militia kidnapped Deputy Minister of Justice Abdulkarim Fares and director of investigations at the ministry Ahmad al-Husseini, in the banks district in central Baghdad.

Around a week earlier, an armed group wearing military uniforms abducted 18 Turkish workers from a stadium construction site east of Baghdad.

In addition to sectarian motives, kidnappings, which have not even spared children, are also carried out to obtain ransom.

Iraqi officials have done little more than condemn the abductions without seeming to be able to stop them.

A senior officer in the Ministry of Interior who asked not to be named said: "No officer in the army or police can take action against militias or kidnapping rings in Baghdad out of fear of physical liquidation."

"These militias receive support from major political parties and blocs in the government. Anyone who objects to their actions faces death."

The source told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service that the prime minister himself could not stop, rein in or disarm these militias.

According to observers, the opposition voiced by militia commanders to the National Guard Law is aimed at blocking any attempt to limit the clout of the militias, which are seeking to dominate the country and circumvent the government.

Murtada al-Ameri, political analyst, said: "Abadi faces extremely difficult choices after announcing his package of reforms. He must use all means to limit the influence of armed militias in Baghdad."

He added: "People are fed up with kidnappings, assassinations, bombings and looting that take place in broad daylight, but Abadi is coming under enormous pressure from Iran, which backs these militias."