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The map of a ‘new Iraq’: Hostages and displacement

April 27, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Image of Iraqi civilians blindfolded in Iraq [alkhaleejonline]

The release of Qatari nationals held hostage in Iraq, which took place after long negotiations, has long captivated the Arab and international media’s attention. Various parties and news outlets all have their own interpretations of what took place. This calibre of attention has never been given to the abduction of Iraqi citizens despite the Iraqi case study being one of the most prominent cases of brutality, affecting individuals and their families. Tragedies and injustices continue to befall all citizens.

There are many reasons for abductions: they can be economic, political and social. The circumstances differ depending on whether the hostage is a child, man or woman and who the person carrying out the abduction is. On the economic level, the act of abduction is the specialisation of gangs whose members are often without work as well as militias that are looking for ways to make money quickly. Such operations are known to bring in between tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, a few days ago, leaders of the Baghdad operations group announced the release of a young girl who was freed from her captivity after her family paid $80,000. These types of cases are rare because the hostage is often killed after the money is obtained.

Arab League: Abduction of Qataris in Iraq ‘act of terrorism’

It is also often the case that the police and security forces are not notified due to the suspicion that members of these institutions have a role to play in these kidnappings. There is also a lack of popular trust in these organisations and it is often regarded that the silence of the victims’ families will save his or her life. On the social level and in light of a failed government and the absence of law and economic development or economic opportunities to non-governmental armed militias, it is common knowledge that every gang, militia or armed group has its own set of laws. Thus, kidnapping operations as well as internal conflicts within these groups are dealt with in their own way. There are disputes over home evacuations, dwellings or jobs.

Shots from large artillery fire close by as women scramble for aid. [Ty Faruk/]

Shots from large artillery fire close by as women scramble for aid. [Ty Faruk/]

The political factor behind these abductions (that is, the interests of the ruler or the party or the polices of said parties) interferes with the economic element (the direct monetary benefit for these abductors and criminals in their increasing numbers). These two factors, in turn, intersect with the social element (demographic or professional changes etc.). This is especially true in the abduction of men who are businessmen, doctors or professors, for example, who are pressured to vacate their post in order for someone else to take it. In some cases, their children are abducted instead, forcing families to migrate and vacate properties in order for gangs to confiscate properties and funds. The latter aspect has become what many are now calling a demographic change in policies. We have seen these cases at the beginning of the occupation in Iraq where tens of thousands of houses were confiscated in Basra, Zubayr, Nasiriyah, Al Sakhar, Anbar, Diyala, Salaheddin and Kirkuk. There have also been cases in Niveneh as of late. In some instances, the sectarian claims are used to justify the so-called fight against terrorism. There are also instances where the prohibition of alcohol is used as a pretext.

Qatari royal freed by Iraqi kidnappers after four months in captivity

The above-mentioned displacements coincide with registrations carried out by social governments that register leases in their name. This includes land and houses and is a cover for the legitimisation of looting and the suppression of rights.

The Americans and the Australians used policies similar to the ones mentioned above to seize land from its rightful owners; the indigenous populations found in both countries. The same can be said about Zionist settlement in Palestine and of any country that has used this tactic of land grabbing against its enemies. The main distinction in the Iraqi case is that it happened over the course of a few years.

The atmosphere resulting from kidnapping and abduction impacts the sense of security in the country, creating a perpetual state of fear. Citizens feel paralysed and are pushed to abandon their initiatives. Voices of opposition calling for reform are silenced as in the case of Jalal Al-Shammani, whose traces are no where to be found since his abduction in September 2015. Many journalists before him have been threatened, detained and tortured.


If the number of abductions has experienced an upsurge and a subsequent decrease in the number of victims since the occupation of Iraq in 2003, due to the strength of the militias, the cases of detention have in fact remained high with nearly 1,000 detainees per month. Their arrests, which can be and should be seen as a form of abduction, are carried out under many pre-texts, the most prominent charge being the accusation of terrorism.

The chairman of the legal committee at Human Rights Watch made a statement on 7 February 2017 admitting that there are thousands of prisoners that are detained solely for the reason that they are suspected of terrorism. One must keep in mind that Iraqi security forces released 100,000 prisoners on 2016 after admitting that none of them had faced trial. Their release came after many of them had spent quite a number of years in prison.

A report issued by Amnesty International for the year of 2016-2017 indicated that security forces and militias have been carrying out arrests at checkpoints and migrant gatherings. In so doing, they fail to inform the victim’s family of the location of this person’s arrest. Many of these prisoners are then placed into solitary confinement for long periods of time.  In other cases, some prisoners disappear entirely while the majority continue to be held in detention brought before the judicial authorities and without a fair trial.


Abduction and detention is the easiest way for citizens to be blackmailed on both physical and political levels. It forces them to submit to humiliating living conditions that are far from acceptable in normal circumstances. In the event that a detainee is accused of participating in terrorist activities by various security apparatuses and militias, they are forced to pay a ransom or are left to die after being tortured. Prisoners are sometimes blatantly murdered in the event that their papers are not submitted to the court.

An Iraqi soldeir at a checkpoint using an IDE detector [file photo]This inevitable fate forces the families of kidnapped individuals, and the detainee him/herself to sell all they have in an effort to collect the amount required. They dream of finding out the location of the kidnapped individual, which is a difficult issue in itself. Many detainees are not afforded the opportunity to communicate with their families until the interrogation period has ended, which sometimes takes months, if not years, according to the information provided by both detention facilities and their parents.

Detainees whose families are unable to pay the ransom are often victims of sectarian discrimination and malicious charges. They are left to suffer from the inhumanity of torture and their cases fall victim to the overcrowding of prisons and the large number of cases, as well as the lack of provision of basic human services. These types of crimes are often committed by individuals who enjoy the privilege of political immunity under the state.

A crystal ball is not required to know what the future of such an institution will be.

The picture is clear and people are living its reality: the corrupt regimes will not be held accountable for their actions unless the people hold them accountable and combat the status quo.

Translated from the New Khalij, 26 April 2017.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.