Dal LaMagna Campaign - Violence in Iraq: Creating the Next Generation of Jihadists

Violence in Iraq is multi-layered.  It can be perpetrated by al-Qaeda, the death squads, the Iraqi resistance, the coalition forces, or any one of the 100,000 prisoners released by Saddam Hussein just days before the U.S. troops arrived. 

Some of these prisoners were political, but many were not.  Imagine if all the prisoners on Rikers Island in New York City were let out and the NYC police force had been dissolved?   This is what happened after our occupation in Iraq.  Many of these criminals formed gangs and went after the Iraqi citizens - robbing, assaulting, killing, and kidnapping.  During my first visit to speak to Iraqis in August 2006, one of the members of Parliament, Nada Ibrahim, talked about the trend in kidnapping in Baghdad.  (See video.)

The Story of Haidar al-Dynee 

While at Mohammed's apartment in Amman, I heard a first hand account of kidnapping.

Haidar al-Dynee, Mohammed's nephew, is 18 years old.  He is living here in Amman at his uncle's apartment.  His father, Ahmed al-Dynee, Mohammed's older brother, is also here, but only for a few weeks. 

In the week that I have been here, I have not seen Haidar leave the house.  When I asked why, he told me he is afraid.  He gets up every day, watches television, goes onto the Internet, and helps out with the meals.  I asked Haidar and his father why this was. 

Haidar Speaks Four years ago, at the end of the school year, 14-year-old Haidar was taking his final exams. He finished his English exam early and rather than wait for his father to pick him up, he walked home by way of a rarely used road.  A car with four occupants pulled up.  One of the men asked,  "Are you Haidar al-Dynee?" 

Haidar answered yes. 

One of the occupants said, "Fine; your father wants you."

Haidar wasn't buying it.  He told the man that if his father wanted him he would call on the mobile phone and not send someone to get him.  The man shouted at Haidar, telling him shut up and get in the car without arguing. 

Two of the occupants then jumped from the car and grabbed Haidar.  Haidar though, was big and strong.  He elbowed one of the men, broke his hold, and ran away.  They started shooting at him. Haidar wasn't hit; he told me he thinks they were shooting over his head to frighten him into stopping.

Fortunately, Haidar saw some American soldiers and ran over to them.  He told the translator with the soldiers that the men had tried to kidnap him.  The soldiers said there was nothing they could do, but Haidar didn't care at that point.  It was clear that the kidnappers feared the Americans more than they wanted Haidar as they scrambled into their car and sped away.

After this incident, Ahmed began taking his son to school and would wait for him to finish his examinations.  When the exams were over, the two went to Syria, where they stayed for the three-month school break.

They returned to Iraq for the start of the new academic year and Haidar attended school Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.  By this time, Ahmed had calmed down.  The business of his son being kidnapped was now four months old and he felt that his son should now be safe.  But one Wednesday, when Ahmed returned from the Baghdad market, the entire family met him, screaming in the door.  Haidar had been kidnapped! 

I asked Haidar about it. 

He told me that this second episode involved the same people as before.  When they took him this time they said, "Last time you escaped; this time you won't."

According to Haidar, they men beat him and then blindfolded him.  Haidar heard one of the kidnappers use a cell phone and say, "We've taken him."

The kidnappers, with Haidar in tow, took off.  Eventually they arrived at their destination and Haidar was placed into a hall.

He was still blindfolded, but he could hear the sounds of children, girls, and women.  They had also been kidnapped.  Asma, who was translating the story said, "Of course they wanted ransom.  The family paid the kidnappers $10,000." 

Ahmed's Story

Ahmed said he gave the money to an intermediary who brought Haidar back. Haidar was lucky.

I asked Ahmed how they arrived at $10,000.

Ahmed explained that he was contacted by the kidnappers and was told he must pay $50,000 to get his son back.  He ended up paying the $10,000 after a week of negotiating. 

I mentioned that in America families of kidnapped victims are advised not to pay ransom because then the kidnappers are encouraged and may strike again. 

Ahmed explained that in Iraq kidnapping is a business and if you don't pay, they kill.  This was a fact and was commonly known. 

I wondered how he negotiated the price down and how he managed to stay relatively calm for the week of negotiations.

He looked down at the arm of his chair and said the waiting was intolerable.  Haidar's mother was overwhelmed with grief.  He said he began the negotiations by telling the kidnappers that he only had $5,000.  And stalled them until they reached $10,000.  Asma said: "He stayed calm and negotiated." 

As soon as his son was returned, Ahmed moved him to Mohammed's house in the Mansour part of Baghdad because Mohammed had a large security team. 

Mohammed and Haidar's father then found a tutor and two security guards who would accompany Haidar to and from the tutor's place and stay with him while he was there. 

Life went on like this for a while.

Then, nine months after the first successful kidnapping, while they were returning from the tutor's, two bandit cars surrounded Mohammed's car carrying Haidar and the two security guards.  One of the guards pushed Haidar onto the floor of the back seat.  Then both guards had a shootout with the kidnappers. 

They escaped unharmed. 

Haidar continued to go to his tutor and then, later, began school again.  He attended school for the next year and a half, constantly in fear for his life despite the security around him.  As soon as he turned 18, he asked his father if he could move to live in the house his uncle maintains outside of Iraq.  It took several months, but Mohammed was finally able to move Haidar in with his wife and infant daughter.

Breeding Grounds?

All Haidar knew in Iraq -- from the time he was 14 -- was fear.  Fear to go out of the house; fear to go to school; fear at school wondering if some militia or criminal would break through the school door and kidnap him again.  Today, he is a prisoner in the apartment where what he knows now is boredom.

In his book, Ending The War In Iraq, Tom Hayden refers to statistics from a Newsweek article.  Hayden writes:

"Half of Iraq's population is under eighteen, more than two-thirds never attend school regularly, ninety percent view the Americans as occupiers, and at least half are traumatized by the war itself. According to a from U.S. Army captain now working with a Baghdad nonprofit, these children are 'ripe for the vengeful appeals of militias and insurgent groups.'"

Haidar's story is exceptional in the sense that his father and uncle had the monetary and political means to pull him out of the "hell".  What about the millions of Iraqi children who cannot escape?

There are no jobs in Iraq.  More than two million Iraqis have fled to other countries.  But there are also two million more who have been forced from their homes and don't have the resources to go anywhere else. 

What are they left with?  Where do they find hope? How do they view the turmoil in their homeland?

It seems that many Iraqis feel despair and react with anger at those they see as creating these dire circumstances. Because of this, it would seem that the longer the coalition forces remain, the longer the anger will exist and the more it will build.  Only now, we are also affecting a new generation; four years is a lifetime for a young person.  

So it seems that we are left contributing to circumstances that become breeding grounds for yet more militiamen.  Even Paul Pillar, a former CIA official said, "The war has served as a sort of recruitment poster and recruiting device."

-- Dal LaMagna,