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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 16:45 GMT
Iraqis living with kidnap terror
By Matthew Price
BBC News, Baghdad

Iraqi schoolgirl
Rana is still haunted by her ordeal
When you hear stories of kidnap in Iraq it is normally the story of foreign journalists or aid workers, targeted by insurgents.

Iraqis are victims of another threat - being kidnapped for money by criminal gangs.

Those gangs are why 17-year-old Hanan Zageer is now driven to school by her father Jewad.

It's only a 10 minute walk from their home to Hanan's school, but after what happened two weeks ago she will not take the risk.

"A gang of criminals tried to kidnap my daughter just outside school," Mr Zageer tells me. "If it hadn't been for the guards she would have been abducted. Now I drive her every day."

At Hanan's school, there is razor wire encircling the walls. There are three guards standing outside. They aren't armed, but they check everyone who goes in.

Traumatised

Inside, the corridors echo to the sound of chatter. The bell sounds. The pupils go into the first class of the day.

Jewad Zageer
Jewad Zageer makes sure his daughter arrives safely every day
For Hanan it is Islamic studies. In the classroom opposite other pupils are being taught Christianity by a nun.

The girls in Hanan's class seem to be a cross-section of Iraqi society. Some in Islamic headscarves, others like Hanan are dressed less conservatively, with dyed hair.

But all of them tell you they are afraid.

"After what happened I can't sleep, can't concentrate on my studies. I spend most days crying. I'm frightened," Hanan tells me.

"I feel very sad. There is no progress. No progress in Iraq. Sometimes I sit and just think of Iraq. I can't see any solution. It's finished."

Conservative dress

A friend, Randa, also wants to say something. Unlike Hanan she wears a headscarf. She is also frightened.

School scene
Fear lurks at the back of everyone's mind, though life can look normal in many ways
"We can't go out. Even what we wear has changed. We used to wear what we liked freely. Now we cover ourselves more.

"They say it is freedom and democracy but nothing has changed. As school girls we never dressed like now, but we dress more conservatively because we're scared of young people who may attack us any time."

On the road outside the school, people are going about their lives, as they do in many towns and cities across Iraq.

Life looks normal in most places, but at the back of everyone's mind is the thought they could be caught up in a violent act or worse personally targeted.

Terrorised

We headed across town to Baghdad's anti-kidnapping unit. The officer we met didn't want to be identified. A colleague was killed after appearing in the media.

Every week more people are abducted, but even here they don't know how many.

"It's not just children. It's also traders and senior officials. Sometimes they'll target a wealthy man for tens of thousands of dollars. Often families don't report it because they are scared," the officer says.

On the wall behind him the faces of the handful of kidnappers they've captured stare out. Black and white images of the men who terrorise their fellow citizens.

"What I want is for the government to apply the law that deals with kidnapping. They should hang criminals to keep the peace."

Most Iraqis are the same. People here - children and adults, civilians and the police - all tell you that for now security is more important than democracy.

That until they are safe, there can be no normal life.


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