Saturday, February 12, 2005

Iraqi Passport and Security

The terrorists have escalated their attacks after the elections. It's heartbreaking as I thought the courage of the Iraqi people on election day sent a big message to the interim government to do something about the daily bombing. Instead, all I read in the Iraqi media since election day is how different parties are trying to get as much power as they can in the next government. That's not what the Iraqis need. Iraqis need security to continue their lives without fear of someone who may blow up their bodies.

We can blame the outside world for Iraq's problems for a while. Then we reach a point when we ask ourselves:

What has the Iraqi interior ministry done during the last 18 months to establish law and order in Iraq?

If that's not enough for the failure of the interior ministry, then look at this photo:

This is an Iraqi passport issued to Paul McGeough, a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald in Baghdad. Are you confused now? Here's how he got it:

The ease of this deal - a "there's-no-limit" discussion on the number of passports required, placing an order and arranging the pick-up - is a chilling window to the easy movement of terrorists into and out of the country.


But take the Iraqi passport pictured. The bearer's name is that of a Christian Arab. It names his Arab mother and it describes him as a merchant of Baghdad - but the picture is of a journalist from Sydney. It was acquired through a former Iraqi policeman who, when asked what his current line of business was, replied cryptically: "I'm retired".

The passport racket came to light last week in Herald interviews with insurgency and criminal elements, who revealed that Sabah al-Baldawi, one of the insurgency's top financiers and the man they say is behind most of the kidnapping in the city, moves freely between Baghdad and Damascus with the aid of up to 20 false passports.


Now the Herald is in possession of the same sort of document. This is not a backstreet counterfeit - it is said to be the real thing.

It was to cost $US100 and could have been turned around in a couple of hours, but it was ordered during the weekend and so had to be delivered 48 hours later. In the best opportunistic tradition of the underworld, the price suddenly doubled at the point of collection - a premium to gouge a foreigner that does not apply to regular local customers.


This doesn't come as a surprise for me. What surprises me is how easy it was for a journalist to obtain an Iraqi passport. So, what's the interior minister and his staff doing to prevent this dirty business?

Election day made it clear Iraqis are made of steel and deserve a better government than the current one. I hope someone is listening.

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