Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Major Robberies In Baghdad and Najaf Likely Done By Iraqi Police

On May 25, 2010 a series of jewelry stores in Baghdad were robbed, followed by a bank robbery on May 28 in Mishkhab, Najaf. While each was blamed on a variety of culprits ranging from insurgents, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and gangs, what is most likely is that they were inside jobs conducted by members of the local police.


First was the jewelry heist in Bayaa , a southwestern neighborhood in Baghdad. Before noon five SUVs drove up to a street filled with jewelry stores and set off bombs killing four, and wounding three. The gunmen then got out of their cars and opened fire on twelve stores, their owners, and guards, leading to eleven more deaths. They were armed with RPGs, AK-47s, machine guns, and silencers. To cover their escape the robbers threw grenades. On their way out they got into a gunfight with the security forces, wounding four policemen, before they got away. The Baghdad Operations Command claimed that they had killed one of the robbers, and arrested two others. The New York Times however, talked to a local witness who said that the dead man was not one of the robbers. Iraqi commanders quickly blamed the robbery on Al Qaeda in Iraq, saying that it was meant to replenish their coffers after their two leaders were killed, and many others arrested. The intelligence chief of the Interior Ministry however said that they didn’t know who the culprits were. The neighborhood was surrounded by blast walls and only had two entrances in and out that were blocked by checkpoints. Later, several senior police officers were arrested. It’s not clear whether they were directly involved in the attack, or whether they were just detained for negligence for letting it happen.

Three days later in the town of Mishkahb, 20 miles south of the city of Najaf, a branch of the state-run Rafidain Bank was robbed. A police officer served drugged tea to the guards at the bank. Then five other men entered, and made off with $5.5 million. A day later, $1.3 million of the stolen money was found, buried near a house of one of the thieves. The bank was holding such as large sum because it was going to pay government officials at the end of the month. The branch was just yards away from a police station as well. The Najaf provincial council later blamed the Facilities Protection Force for not removing corrupt officials from its force, and not doing its job.

Insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq could be involved in both crimes, but the likely culprits are members of the security forces. How else could robbers get in and out of a section of Bayaa that only had two entrances guarded by checkpoints? Similarly, in Mishkahb the theft took place right in front of a police station, and a policeman drugged the guards at the bank. The criminals are probably full time police officers, and in their off hours work as part of gangs, which are a growing issue in the country. The Najaf council admitted as much when they blamed the local security force for not kicking out bad elements. The police have always been the most troubled. Low pay and dangerous jobs have led to corruption, and they are often investigated after a large attack occurs because many believe there are infiltrated by militants. The two robberies show that with improved security in the country, crime is becoming a growing problem.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraqi police recover 1.3 million dollars from bank heist,” 5/29/10

AK News, “Najaf council: “FPS and police chief are responsible for Mishkhab robbery,”” 5/31/10

Associated Press, “Gunmen kill 15 in Baghdad gold shops raid,” 5/25/10
- “Masked Baghdad gold thieves kill 15,” 5/26/10

BBC, “Baghdad thieves kill 14 in jewellery shop raids,” 5/25/10

Fadel, Leila and Alwan, Aziz, “Armed robbery at gold market in Baghdad leaves at least 14 civilians dead," Washington Post, 5/26/10

Ibrahim, Waleed and Robinson, Matt, “Death and betrayal stalk police in Iraq,” Reuters, 5/28/10

Al Jazeera, “Deadly gold robbery in Baghdad,” 5/25/10

Myers, Steven Lee, “Gunmen Rob Baghdad Jewelry Stores in Sight of Checkpoints, Killing at Least 14,” New York Times, 5/25/10

Sly, Liz and Redha, Usama, “15 killed in Baghdad gold market robbery,” Los Angeles Times, 5/26/10

Yahya, Mazin, “Iraq bank robbers steal $5 million, guards drugged,” Associated Press, 5/28/10

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