Letters from Donna, a Pilgrim in Iraq – 2004-12-18 21:44:03
(December 9, 2004) — Dear Friends: There’s a family in Leith’s neighbourhood that is selling their house. He says it’s a large, beautiful home with a big garden – one of the nicest in the street. They are not selling the house to move to a more fashionable neighbourhood. The desperate sale is to access funds to pay the $50,000 ransom that has been demanded by kidnappers for the life of their 10-year-old son.
They are not alone. Five children were kidnapped in this suburb last month in the space of a week. Two in a neighbouring suburb before that and so on. Kidnappings in Iraq are now endemic.
Along with the international community, Iraqis condemn, discusses, analyse and mourn the kidnappings of a number of foreigners that have occurred in Iraq. But for them there’s more to it.
They know how it feels. The only difference is their stories rarely make it to the news. Since the break down of law and order after the invasion of Iraq by foreign forces, kidnapping has been one of the most common and lucrative activities of criminal gangs.
More than a Thousand Kidnappings in Baghdad Alone
Police estimate more than one thousand children and adults of various ages have been kidnapped in Baghdad alone. It seems that all of my Iraqi friends know a family that has been affected by kidnapping.
The criminals are brazen. In Leith’s area a gang entered shops and businesses in the main street and demanded $10,000 or their child would be kidnapped. If they didn’t pay up the gang painted a red cross above the shop. Because many shop owners could not find $10,000 they had to close the shop and flee with their families.
I sit in a daze of shock and sadness as I listen to the story. “How could anybody …?”
“This is normal since the invasion,” Hardie says matter-of-factly. “There is no law here now. Iraq has become a place where anyone can do whatever they want. Some of the gangs have deals with the police to protect them.”
Leith says that most kidnapped children are returned upon payment of the ransom plunging middle-class families into poverty after handing over their life savings. He has also heard of a few cases where teenagers were killed when a ransom was not paid on time.
“How could anybody…”?
As a result of the breakdown of law and order in Iraq parents are understandably petrified to part with their children. Some have left their jobs so they are available to drive their child to and from school each day. Others do not allow their children to go to school at all.
“How can this be stopped?” I asked out loud not really expecting an answer. Hardie responded in a flash. “Saddam Hussein/”.
“What?” I asked rather surprised coming from the mouth of young, well-educated Shi’ite man. “When we lived under Saddam I used to stay out all night and walk home at three in the morning without a thought for my safety. I could leave my car in any place – with the key in the ignition! Now you can’t leave a toy car on the street or it will disappear!
“You think we want to live like this, like we are in a prison? No, we prefer how it was before. Under Saddam we knew how to protect our family, the rules were clear. But now we live each day afraid we will lose someone we love whenever they leave the house.”
This sombre conversation with Leith and Hardie is one of many I have with Iraqis on a daily basis about the kidnappings, the breakdown of law and order and the general violence and chaos in which they now live.
When I ask them how they feel about foreigners being kidnapped the response is always sad and sympathetic. “We feel for the foreigners and their families so much because they did not deserve this,’ Leith says. “We know how it feels and no one should have to experience this kind of suffering. We don’t deserve it either.”
The kidnap situation here is so messy, dark and horrible; it is hard to make any sense of it. That’s why I made no attempt to analyse or suggest a solution. Simply recounting a conversation that is commonplace among Iraq people on a daily basis is all I feel I can do for now. I can share with you their opinions and then you can try to make your own analysis – let me know what you come up with!
PPS: The Iraqis do not believe the kidnapping of foreigners is the action of the Iraqi resistance, but purely criminal gangs seeking money. They believe this is the case for Margaret Hussein, and the evidence would also suggest this, although there are other theories on that, too. They do not consider Al’Zarqawi as part of the Iraqi resistance, but a separate force attracted to Iraq by the US occupation, with another agenda and with minor influence amongst Iraqis.
PPPS: Welcome to all the new people who joined the list in recent days! Don’t worry: I do occasionally have good news too! You can find past stories at: www.groups.yahoo.com/group/thepilgrim
PPPPS: I’m sorry I’ve been quiet the last few days. I admit to being knocked around by a negative experience that rendered me incapable of thinking clearly or writing. The experience had nothing to do with anything or anyone in Iraq. Rather it came from the outside. I would appreciate your prayers to regain my strength and clarity.
PPPPPS: “Love is the answer and you know that for sure.” John Lennon.
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