Security for Sale

Baghdad is full of checkpoints, but police officers will look the other way for the right price.

Security for Sale

Baghdad is full of checkpoints, but police officers will look the other way for the right price.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Four policemen stood by the side of the road in a shopping street in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Mansour, stopping passing cars and checking number plates against a list of stolen vehicles.

A car without number plates pulled up at the checkpoint, and a policeman asked the driver about the missing plates.

The driver said he hadn't had time to register the car, and when the policeman asked for the car's documents, he said he’d forgotten them at home.

In the end, the policeman said the vehicle could be stolen and it would have to be impounded.

"We can resolve the matter in a better way," said the driver. "I’m ready to compromise."

"Give me 10,000 dinars [seven US dollars], or I’ll impound the car," said the policeman, who eventually settled for half that amount.

The driver was an IWPR contributor, investigating the extent to which police can be bought off when they are supposed to be imposing tight security measures.

Baghdad's streets are full of police checkpoints, established to stop rampant crime as well as the spate of car bombings that has terrorised the city in recent weeks.

But in just one day last week, IWPR found two checkpoints where police were willing to overlook a suspicious vehicle for the price of a small bribe.

Later that day, in the south Baghdad suburb of Dura, IWPR’s reporter was stopped on a dark, unlit street in a vehicle full of boxes.

The reporter said the boxes contained children's clothes. The policeman asked to see one, and the reporter pulled a small dress from under his seat – not from one of the boxes.

"I will have my daughter try it out," said the policeman, taking the dress. "There is no need to inspect you."

Such behaviour is mild compared with that of some other police officers.

Two officers from Baghdad’s al-Sahaab police station were recently executed by fellow policemen, who discovered the pair had been stealing cars and murdering the drivers.

"The killers were arrested while trying to escape in one of the stolen cars," said inspector Murad Hassan al-Juburi.

"There are many policemen accused of murder, theft, and freeing criminals in most Baghdad police stations," conceded Juburi.

At the Dura police station, however, the police chief insisted that no such corruption was possible.

"My office is the best in Baghdad," said chief Colonel Ahmed Abd al-Razzaq. "We provide security for the public. No one makes claims about us relating to bribery or other issues."

While he admits to having some "weak personalities” on his force, the police chief insists that “we control them".

But one police officer told an IWPR reporter that he would help a prisoner escape from the cells for the right price.

"I'm not afraid, as everyone takes bribes and lets the suspects out of jail," said the officer. "I am ready to help any suspect flee from the station for 500,000 dinars [350 dollars].”

Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.

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