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Dangerous Neighborhoods

October 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

SIMON MARKS: The day starts early for the major crimes unit of the Iraqi police. It’s 4:30 in the morning and already detectives accompanied by the U.S. Military police who escort them are rolling through the streets of Baghdad, preparing to launch a pre-dawn raid. Their target: A series of houses in a Baghdad suburb where they believe members of a gang responsible for a string of murders, kidnappings, and robberies is holed up. As the officers move in… ( gunfire ) …gunfire is briefly exchanged, the bullets piercing the morning silence. Kidnapping is a new crime here, and one that the major crimes unit established just three months ago is desperate to stamp out.

LT. COL. ANWAR ABDUL JABBAR ( Translated ): We never had this before. In my 18 years as an officer, I never dealt with or heard about a single kidnapping case. Kidnapping started when the war ended. The gangs of looters that formed after the regime fell, they would kidnap each other and demand ransoms. Then they started to kidnap innocent civilians. Now they go after anyone they like. So it’s absolutely a byproduct of our circumstances.

SIMON MARKS: As the suspects are arrested, some of the Iraqi detectives manhandled them. The leader of the gang is wanted for four murders. Iraqi kidnappers are known for preying on teenage women. There are no Miranda rights read here as the suspects are taken in.

SPOKESMAN: Compared to western law enforcement, things are different.

SIMON MARKS: Sergeant Michael Routh is a reservist serving with the U.S. military police. A police officer from Hannibal, Missouri he has been helping to train members of major crimes unit. At a time when human rights of organizations are accusing the U.S. Army of acting in an overly aggressive manner in Iraqi streets, he says he is trying to persuade the Iraqi officers to respect western concepts of justice and suspects’ rights.

SGT. MICHAEL ROUTH: We’re trying to let them know that their only role in law enforcement is to make the arrest, to gather information and not to pass the judgment. That is for a judge to do. If the judge finds him guilty, that’s to the judge.

SIMON MARKS: By lunchtime, the major crimes unit is back on the road. This time, a counterfeit operation believed responsible for forging millions of Iraqi dinars is in its sights. When detectives reach the scene, they find the alleged counterfeiter isn’t at home. Neighbors tell them that they saw a man leaving the apartment the previous night carrying printing equipment with him. The relationship between the Iraqi police and the Iraqi people is slowly finding a new dynamic. For years the force was a repressive tool of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Now the police say they are working hard to win the trust of the people.

LT. COL. ANWAR ABDUL JABBAR ( Translated ): Through working with the people, and as long as they can see us out there working to improve security, we’re out there representing ourselves. As they see the situation improve they’ll give us credit and won’t forget the role that we’re playing.

SIMON MARKS: It will, though, be a long, hard battle. The center of Baghdad looks normal enough. The city’s markets were teeming with energy as shoppers stocked up for the holy month of Ramadan. But everybody cites security is a major concern. It’s an issue never far from their minds.

KASIM HUSSEIN, Cement Trader (Translated): Security is nonexistent. We used to stay open until midnight. Now we have to shut down at 5:00, all the stores do. By 8:00 at night the streets of Baghdad are deserted. In the past, you’d see life on the streets at 3:00, 4:00 in the morning. There’s one way things are different from the way they were under Saddam.

MOHAMMED FAUZI, Spice Trader (Translated ): It’s true we have freedom of speech, but we don’t have security. Before we can’t speak freely but we didn’t have security; now we can speak freely but there’s no security. So, what’s the difference?

SIMON MARKS: The difference between the Saddam Hussein era and today, according to the doctor’s wife Rafwan Abdul Raffour, is the difference between living and getting by.

RAFWAN ABDUL RAFFOUR, Iraqi Mother (Translated ): You can say that life has pretty much stopped because of the security situation. For me, as a mother and as a woman, it’s very difficult to leave my house. My children are almost imprisoned in their own home. There’s no security in the streets. We’re scared of the streets. There are explosives everywhere. Anyone can pass by them. Every time you leave your house you are taking a serious risk.

SIMON MARKS: So, on the streets of Baghdad today there are far fewer women than there were just seven months ago, and those who are out and about are unenthused about the risks they are taking

NADDIN KHATTAB, Baghdad Student (Translated): I didn’t want the former regime to stay in power, but I didn’t want this either– a country can’t come in here and preach liberation and talk about liberation when you have criminals on the streets. This is not liberation, this is a disaster.

FARAH JAWHAR, Baghdad Student ( Translated ): Even when we’re in school we’re scared because of crime that is happening even sometimes on campus. We’re not seeing anything getting better. It’s all getting worse

SIMON MARKS: That is not the case according to Captain Jeffrey T. Leslie of the 1st Armored Division.

SPOKESMAN: This is known for being a pro-Saddam area.

SIMON MARKS: Like the coalition officials he serves as he patrols some of the neighborhoods where the U.S. Believe Saddam Hussein sympathizers reside, he says the crime wave is being brought under control.

CAPT. JEFFREY T. LESLIE, 1st Armored Division: When we got here at the end of the May, there were no police anywhere. Now they respond really fast to everything. They are always there and they are taking a really proactive role. The Iraqis used to not trust them, but the more Iraqis I talk to, they are starting to get that trust back for them and they feel they are doing something good for the people.

SIMON MARKS: But it hasn’t been easy to recruit members of the Iraqi police major crimes unit. The unit has 42 officers with the power of arrest to serve a city the size of Los Angeles. And with police stations now being targeted for attack by suicide bombers who accuse the Iraqi police of collaborating with the U.S. and its allies, the recruitment process here only gets harder. Concerns about security take on a number of different aspects.

On the streets of Baghdad, people want to know that they won’t be preyed upon by marauding gangs of organized criminals and that the city’s murder rate of 16 per day– double the prewar level– will soon fall. But many have another fear: The concern that quite by chance they’ll be caught up in the political violence that has rocked this city since Saddam Hussein’s fall. The violent attacks that have dominated the headlines here are as unpredictable as they are deadly. Foreign embassies, downtown hotels, the headquarters of the red across and the United Nations — all have been considered fair game by those elements seeking to force a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

MUWAFFAK AL RABBAIE, Iraqi Governing Council: It’s not a very good experience, I have to admit, but this is the price. It comes with the territory.

SIMON MARKS: When the Baghdad Hotel was targeted by a car bomber, Dr. Muwaffak Al Rabbaie was inside. A member of the Iraqi governing council, which runs things here jointly with the coalition and has already seen one of its number assassinated, he and his colleagues know they are potential targets.

MUWAFFAK AL RABBAIE: If we want to build a country, we have to be ready and prepared to sacrifice. We’re prepared to sacrifice ourselves for this. We’re building a new Iraq, and they are trying to destroy it, this new Iraq. They are trying to derail the process of constitutional process. They are trying to derail the democratization of Iraq. We’re not going to let them do that. We’re not going to be, if you like, excluded and isolated from our people

SIMON MARKS: There is, however, no indication that the attempts to derail the process will end anytime soon, partly because the bombers have easy and almost unlimited access to enormous amounts of ammunition — 25 miles south of Baghdad doesn’t look like much today, but before the war, it was home to a division of Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard. Today anyone can drive through the gates of the old base and find littered all over the site enormous piles of unexploded ammunition. Troops with the 82nd Airborne patrol here on a routine basis, but it covers ten-square miles and it’s proved impossible to secure all the ammunition here all the time.

CAPT. ALEX URSEL: It’s a huge ammo dump. The locals want it. We want it. Other military forces want it. So, yeah, it’s definitely a threat to both the Iraqi populous and the coalition forces

SIMON MARKS: Anyone can come here and steal explosives that can be used in suicide bomb attacks or other acts of sabotage. In one storage facility we found enough propellants to have several large explosions; certainly enough to bring down one of Baghdad’s large hotels. Local Iraqi police officer, Ali Hamsa Sultan, also occasionally patrols the base, and says it’s vital for sites like this to be secured.

ALI HAMSA SULTAN (Translated): With the fuses you saw over there you could fill a car with two bags, light a fuse and there would be a huge explosion, a car bomb– just from the materials you have seen right here. We want the U.S. Military and coalition to clean this up. It’s a danger to our children, it’s a danger to us; it’s a danger to everyone who comes to Iraq.

SIMON MARKS: With those dangers uppermost in their minds, many Iraqis have been forced to change their daily routine because of the bombing campaign. Seven months ago, the NewsHour met Imad el Sabakh, one of Baghdad’s best-known auctioneers. Then he was a sidewalk star attracting enormous crowds to his furniture sale. Today he is off the streets. He says it’s no longer safe to conduct his business affairs

IMAD EL SABAKH (Translated): There’s no security. I’m afraid that if we have huge crowds the way we used to attract them before the war, it would become a target for the bombers. These days large crowds are not safe.

SIMON MARKS: By night, some Iraqis are slowly venturing back out into a city that used to swing until the small hours. The fish restaurants that line the Tigris River are gingerly reopening, but their clientele is entirely male, and dinners wrap up earlier than they did before. The talk is of insecurity, restrictions, and of disappointment with the U.S. and its allies.

ALAH AL-KAFAJI (Translated): They did liberate Iraq, I’m not saying they didn’t. They liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but they did not liberate Iraq for these people sitting here. There are 13 of us sitting here and we don’t know if we can get home safely. ( Singing in Arabic )

SIMON MARKS: Until that sense of security returns, many Iraqis say that the coalition’s achievements will be eclipsed by the actions of those who seek to undermine America’s goals here and by the criminals capitalizing on the power vacuum created by Saddam’s fall.