It doesn’t cost a lot to set up your
own death squad in Iraq. Military uniforms, guns and even
police vehicles are easily available to all comers in the
markets of Baghdad.
In a city where gangs of men dressed as police have killed
dozens of people and stolen tens of thousands of dollars,
anyone with a modest amount of cash can set up their own fake
At Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharjee market, a haven for criminals,
anyone can walk into one of about 15 shops selling police and
military supplies and buy a police commando uniform for 35,000
Dinars (about 13 pounds) or an ordinary police uniform for $15
(about 8 pounds).
No questions asked, no identity checks. Badges of rank from
Captain to Major-General — enough to ensure no one asks
questions on the mean streets of the capital — go for $2.
"One person came yesterday and took 12 full commando
uniforms. Another took 15 army uniforms and ski masks with
holes for the eyes," said Tariq, who runs one of the stores.
"I don’t care who comes to buy them. As long as they give
me the money, I give them the products," he said, adding the
most popular items were police commando uniforms.
Although some uniforms such as a plain blue Iraqi police
shirt are relatively simple for any tailor to produce, it was
unclear where Tariq and others get the complicated camouflage
There are plenty of smaller items such as laser pointers
for weapons, face-hiding ski masks, and handcuffs.
In a country awash with guns, almost every family has at
least an AK-47, weapons are cheap and easily obtained.
It underscores the huge task confronting Prime
Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki as he forms a government to
tackle the violence, bloodshed and crime endemic in postwar
One of the critical tasks he faces is to clean up the
Shi’ite-dominated interior ministry, which has been accused of
condoning death squads who hunt down minority Sunni Arabs.
Sunnis, who have led an insurgency that has killed
thousands of Shi’ites in the past 3 years, accuse the interim
Shi’ite-led government of sanctioning militia ‘death squads’
over the past year, a charge the administration has strongly
Many demand Iraq’s militias be disbanded, something Maliki
has promised to make a priority by drafting them into the armed
forces. But the ease with which weapons and uniforms can be
bought highlights how hard it will be to stamp them out.
Last year, for example, a Sunni insurgent group called the
‘Army of the Victorious Sect’ claimed responsibility for an
attack in Baghdad using dozens of police uniforms and vehicles
they said was aimed at officers of the interior ministry.
Criminal gangs have also used the uniforms of Iraqi
security forces to murder and kidnap.
Head of the interior ministry’s special law and order unit
Major-General Mehdi al-Gharrawi said the uniforms were being
used by criminals to stain the image of the ministry’s forces.
"The clothes sold are bringing false accusations against
us," he said. "We are people of the law, not street gangs.
"Today, the interior minister agreed to raid the stores
that sell our uniforms because this must end."
He said within two weeks the police and commandos would
also change their uniforms to a style that will be hard to
copy, a promise they have failed to act on in the past.
Just a few kilometres from Bab al-Sharjee, at the Nahdha
car showrooms, it is possible to buy the same vehicles the
police special forces or ordinary police use for $12,000.
By Mussab Al-Khairalla