Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cultural Differences-No wonder ...

The Corpse Trade in Iraq28/07/2007
By Maad Fayad

Asharq Al-Awsat, London - Ahmed Nizar Abdulaziz, a former officer in the Iraqi army who lives with his family in the al Khadra district in west Baghdad, was kidnapped from his home at midnight by one of the armed militia groups. He was then killed.

So far Ahmed’s story resembles many of those unfolding in present-day Baghdad; in fact, it is almost the norm considering the events taking place today. What is astonishing, however, is that his body was taken and delivered to another party, which then contacted the family of the deceased to demand huge sums of money in return for the body.

This phenomenon has come to be known as the ‘corpse trade’; individuals or groups look for bodies lying on the streets or elsewhere so they can use them to haggle with the families of the victims in return for money. And thus emerges the latest innovation devised by Iraq’s death traders.

According to Muwafaq, Ahmed Abdulaziz’s younger brother, “We were anticipating the customary phone call demanding a ransom for his release or with information as to the location of the body after he was kidnapped. But a week after the abduction, we received a call from the people we had suspected and they were demanding US $50,000 for his release. After long negotiations, we agreed to pay US $35,000 for my brother’s release.”

Muwafaq continued, “Negotiations had reached the stage where we were deciding on a time and place to receive my brother – after handing over the agreed ransom. The location to deliver the money was determined, after many changes were made in the space of an hour that they could ensure we would not try to con or ambush them, or bring the police into it. When we delivered the money in a remote area called Ziraa Digla, they said ‘we will call you tomorrow to let you know when and where you can find your son’.”

But it was a long wait. Muwafaq added, “The operation through which we delivered the money and the handing over of the kidnapped person is like a ‘Hollywood’ action movie in which the most likely loser is the victim. You are dealing with a gang of criminals and you are forced to trust them so that you don’t blame yourself later. You say to yourself, ‘if I submit to them now, my brother may still be alive.’ They used to call us using my brother’s mobile phone and they used to demand a sum of money to add credit to the phone line.”
Mujahid, another of Ahmed’s brothers said, “We remained in a tense state while we waited for them to call and inform us of the location and time to pick up my brother. Every time we called, the phone was switched off. They are clever in these matters.”

There are many similar stories in Iraq, which is regularly witnessing blind acts of violence. Many of the families of the kidnapped people have not found their loved ones – or their bodies yet.

A doctor at al Tib al Adli described the process of storing the corpses: “We photograph the faces of the victims and give every body a number and then store it in a fridge. The pictures and numbers of the victims are then placed on a bulletin board that is hung on the entrance of the morgue. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians come to check it on a daily basis in search of their missing fathers and sons.”

The young doctor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity said, “It is a new and low profession that has emerged from the trade of corpses that we call ‘unidentified’. One of these professions is the theft of the actual bodies so that they can be sold to the families of the victim.”

At the same time, some unidentified parties stated that they had volunteered to bury these bodies “to honor them”. These parties would collect the bodies from the streets or from nearby the al Tib al Adli building to bury them in remote places, after which they would give them numbers following taking a picture of the victims’ faces. The information is then documented and registered in a special file.

However, it later transpired that these parties, after collecting the full information, would then contact the families of the victims and demand money in return for telling them the location of their sons’ graves. The sums of money sometimes reach US $10,000.

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