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Baghdad Neighborhoods Barricade Themselves In

Some Baghdad residents say that private security companies represent the best way to guarantee their safety given the deteriorating security situation and the inability of police, military (Iraqi and U.S.) and local militias to respect human rights.

"When you go out in the street and you see Iraqi police or army, you're afraid that you could be shot dead or arrested at any time," said 45 year-old Baghdad shopkeeper Abbas Kubaissy. "They behave outside the law and without the minimum respect for locals."

Often fearing for their lives, Baghdadis have learnt to keep their distance from the military convoys constantly rumbling down the city's streets, despite the fact that such convoys are ostensibly intended for their protection. "My two sons were killed because they got too close to an Iraqi police car," said Safa'a Madd'aa, 56, a Baghdad resident. "They shot them dead without the minimum of compassion."

Military officials, however, pointing to the tense security atmosphere, defend such actions as inevitable. "It can be seen as aggressive behavior, but every Baghdadi is aware of the dangers faced by the Iraqi Army and police countrywide," said senior interior ministry officer Major Col. Hassan Ali. "They have been informed to stay away from convoys because terrorists are everywhere."

Ministry officials have also accused private security companies of being de facto militias, often using the name of private security groups to specifically target Sunni Arabs. "Our ministry has decided not to register any more security companies and to try to deactivate those which already exist to prevent the emergence of more militia activity," said Ali. He went on to estimate that at least 20,000 local and foreign contractors were currently active in the country protecting clients, training personnel and "assisting" in interrogations.

While Ali insisted that government security personnel were "much more understanding with the civilian population" than private security companies, some locals disagreed. "Last week, when I was entering a government building, the private security guards at the door were very respectful," said Omar Rabia'a, 34, a government employee in the capital. "But when an Iraqi policeman nearby heard my Sunni name, he shouted at me and took me aside for additional questioning."

With gunfights between private security contractors and Iraqi security forces becoming a common sight in the streets of Baghdad, residents express exasperation. "Weapons should be in the hands of the state, not in those of independent militias," said Suha Bartiar, spokeswoman for a local NGO. "But first, government security organs must learn more about human rights and how to behave with their fellow Iraqis -- then they might be respected by the population."

© IRIN   [Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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Albion Monitor   May 8, 2006   (

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