BAQUBA — Amidst the violence and chaos in Diyala province, kidnappings continue unabated, bringing an uncertain fate for the abducted, and unanswered questions for their families.
Kidnapping has become another form of violence, to add to car bombs, assassinations, displacement, theft, threats and air strikes.
And kidnapping itself is carried out in all sorts of ways: taking someone from their home at night, from office during the day, in plain sight of civilians and police officers on the street, at false check points, or stopping the car to abduct the person.
Families of those kidnapped are left without knowing who took their loved one, or where the person might have been taken. Panic sets in. Families try to find someone in a position of influence who could help, but usually no one can.
If the person kidnapped is a policeman, member of the Iraqi National Guard (ING) or a translator for the U.S. military, he is usually killed immediately. When a civilian is kidnapped and a couple of weeks pass without a ransom demand, families begin the painful process of checking the local morgue repeatedly.
“When they kill a prisoner, they may drop him in the street as a sign of challenge to the government, or they select a place to be their execution zone,” Hussam Nasir, a resident of Baquba (50 km northeast of Baghdad), whose brother was kidnapped told IPS. “After they leave this place, a police patrol comes to move the body to the morgue. In the morgue, two pictures are taken from reverse angles to be kept in the computer.”
Nasir knows what that can be like. “These pictures are shown to those who come to ask about their relatives. The dead cannot be identified easily because their faces are usually decomposed or exploded, but I knew my brother’s face when I saw it.”
Thamir Niama, whose brother was detained several months ago, also went through pictures at the morgue.
“When I saw the pictures of my brother, the body had been dressed in an ING uniform even though he is not a member of the ING. When he was abducted, he was wearing a tracksuit. The gangs who do these things make a video tape of the execution in order to get paid for it.”
Salim Kadhim from the Qatoun quarter of the city told IPS that his nephew disappeared en route from northern Iraq to Diyala province.
“We received a phone call from a person saying that they had detained our nephew and he would be killed,” Kadhim told IPS. Kadhim said he managed to talk with someone in the group involved in the kidnapping. “I was told to never ask about our nephew, and after several days we found the body in the morgue.”
There have been so many kidnappings in Baquba that it is almost a relief to find bodies in the morgue, so they may receive a proper burial.
Halima Jasib, whose brother was kidnapped, told IPS that he spoke with a “middleman” for the people who detained his brother. He was asked for a ransom of 20,000 dollars.
“We managed to raise the money from friends and relatives who donated generously,” Jasib said. “But the middleman took the money, and it’s five months, and there is no news of my brother. Now we are sure that he was thrown in the Diyala river or buried in the farms.”
Every week now officials in Baquba find groups of bodies buried in farm areas around the city.
There is no informed estimate of how many Iraqis are missing nationwide, but scores are kidnapped daily, and stories of abductions seem endless.
“Our 23-year-old son was a policeman in the directorate-general of police,” Mahmood al-Rubai’i told IPS. “One day, while he was coming home after work, a car blocked his way and the men in it took him and his car with them.”
Two days after the abduction Rubai’i received a phone call demanding 15,000 dollars. He sold a piece of land, and his younger son took the money to the designated drop location.
“He dropped the money in a garbage barrel and returned home hoping they would release our son as promised,” Rubai’i told IPS. “We hoped to see our son during the first week after giving the money, but it has been more than six months, and we have no sign he is still alive.”
(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)