Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Iraq cracks down on Baghdad's camouflage tailors

An advert promoting uniform tailoring in Baghdad
There is a whole section of one Baghdad market dedicated to tailoring camouflage uniforms, and traders are doing brisk business

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Baghdad

There is a dizzying array of different camouflage shirts hanging in Qais Ibrahim's tailor shop: dark blue, light blue, even white, for the various different police departments.

And then there is the khaki and jungle green for the army departments - not to mention the dark shirts that the officers wear.

In the past the army just used one colour, but now everyone has his own choice
Qais Ibrahim

Iraqi police, military and local security forces are growing as the Americans prepare for a large-scale withdrawal of their troops.

This has given rise to a burgeoning industry, providing uniforms for the hundreds of thousands of people employed at checkpoints and on patrols across the country.

But in recent months, a number of high-profile attacks have been carried out by bombers wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi security forces.

Now the government has started cracking down.


"In the past the army just used one colour," Mr Ibrahim says, as he works away at his sewing machine.

Tailor Qais Ibrahim
There are many different styles of camouflage for different forces

"But now everyone has his own choice. I make suits for the national police, trousers and shirts for the local police, and uniforms for all the different army units, air force, infantry, all of them."

Variety is part of the problem.

There's so little uniformity in the uniforms system, that the soldiers and policemen at the checkpoints can't keep track.

The uniforms business has grown to such an extent that it's starting to take over the street markets.

At one market in central Baghdad, amid the hubble-bubble tea shops, the blaring music and the Chinese-made plastic toys, several alleyways are almost entirely dedicated to selling the various outfits belonging to the different security forces.


Abu Sajjad is in his mid-20s, and he does a brisk trade, selling uniforms and accessories like gun holsters and flak jackets.

Mar 2004: 171 killed in bombings in Baghdad and Karbala
Nov 2006: 202 killed in multiple blasts in Baghdad
Mar 2007: 152 killed in truck bombing in Talafar
Apr 2007: 191 killed in car bombings in Baghdad
Aug 2007: More than 500 killed in attacks on villages near Sinjar
Aug 2009: 95 killed in lorry bombs in Baghdad
Oct 2009: 155 killed in twin lorry bomb attacks in Baghdad
Dec 2009: At least 127 killed in a series of car bombs in Baghdad
January 2010 At least 36 killed in three co-ordinated explosions in Baghdad
Source: News agencies, BBC

Business is good, he says.

But last month, all the stallholders and tailors of Baghdad were told to sign a pledge, not to sell their wares to anyone except bona fide policemen or members of the military.

"Yesterday, someone refused to show me his badge," he said, "I told him it was for his own safety as well as mine, but he still refused so I had to turn him away."

The danger of not checking ID is very real.

A number of recent attacks in the capital have been carried out by bombers masquerading as members of the security forces.

The most high-profile was the bombing of the foreign ministry in August last year in which scores of people were killed.


The authorities say they have now also taken steps to standardise and limit the vast numbers of different uniforms.

Maj Gen Qasim Atta
Maj Gen Qasim Atta has become a style icon

At the headquarters of Baghdad Operations Command - the nerve centre for security operations in the capital - Major General Qasim Atta leafs through a sizeable document.

It contains detailed pictures and descriptions of the defining features of different military uniforms.

"There used to be confusion over the kind and colour of the uniforms of the various security institutions," he says.

"But now, things are different and specific uniforms have been allocated for each ministry."

Besides, he says, there is no need for people to buy their uniforms from tailor shops or street markets.

Extra numbers

The government provides its personnel with standardised imports.

But, asked where he procured his own uniforms, Gen Atta replied, with a smile, that he had to look good for the cameras.

And so he uses one of the best tailors in town. In fact, there's even a particular style of uniform that has been named after him - the "Qasim Atta".

The trouble is that many of his colleagues agree. Bespoke is the uniform of choice, if you can afford it.

On the day of the general election, 7 March, Gen Atta promises there will be around 200,000 security personnel on duty in Baghdad alone.

The hope is that the extra numbers will deter the bombers.

But it also means an awful lot of different uniforms, and extra confusion for those manning the checkpoints trying to prevent attackers from reaching their targets.

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