Iraq: March 7, 2004


Criminals and vigilantes are more of a threat to the average Iraqi than are foreign terrorists or Sunni Arab fighters. The foreigners, mostly Arabs from nearby countries, have to depend on bribes or alliances with Sunni Arab groups to just survive in Iraq. Interrogations of those arrested so far indicates that the number of foreigners is not great. Perhaps a few hundred at most. The Sunni Arab resistance groups are concentrated in areas that have largely Sunni Arab populations (Baghdad and its northern and western suburbs). But throughout the country there are criminal gangs of varying sizes and firepower. To deal with the gangs, many villages and city neighborhoods have formed their own local vigilante groups. The coalition troops have long given tacit recognition to this by allowing one rifle or pistol per household. This makes burglary a dangerous operation, and even robbing a business can result in shots fired in both directions. Kidnapping is a criminal favorite, as are murders, followed by offers of "protection for a price." Saddam released many of the worst criminal gang leaders just before the war. The gangsters too smart to get caught by Saddam's police are still operating as well. For most Iraqis, the crooks are the real enemy, the one they have to deal with every day. Rebuilding the Iraqi police force is still a work in progress, so in many neighborhoods, vigilante justice is all people have.


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