Ali Jasim, a chemical engineer and resident of the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karada, feels a twinge of panic whenever he sees convoys of sport utility vehicles passing. "Every time I see them I feel nervous," says Jasim. "Their fingers are always on the trigger."
Western security details, often deployed in such cars, are a common sight in Jasim's district, which is home to prominent political figures as well as many Western organizations employing private guard forces. SUV convoys speed through the area regularly, bristling with weapons wielded by muscled security contractors. Anyone veering too close to the convoys risks being shot. And yesterday one such convoy moving through Karada left two women dead in yet in another incident certain to deepen hostility toward security guards who, in the eyes of many Iraqis, have taken on the dangerous unpredictability of gangsters.
Iraqi authorities say the two women were killed in Karada Tuesday when gunmen for the security firm Unity Resources Group shot into their car as it neared a convoy. The company acknowledged the incident and said it was working with Iraqi authorities to investigate what happened. But to many Iraqis the grim scene was simply a repetition of increasingly common Baghdad shootings involving Western security firms. The episodes often seem to play out the same way: A car of civilians accidentally gets too close to a security convoy, prompting a firestorm of bullets that leaves behind pierced cars draped with bloody bodies.
The Karada killings came as the Iraqi government stepped up pressure on the United States to rein in Western security firms in the wake of a shooting incident Sept. 16 involving the Blackwater security firm that left 17 people dead. The official Iraqi investigation into that incident quickly concluded that Blackwater, the security firm used by the U.S. embassy, was at fault and owed each of the victims' families $8 million in compensation.
So far there is no word on demands for compensation for Marou Awanis and Geneva Jalal, the two victims Tuesday in Karada. But many in Karada would simply like to see the security companies off the streets of Iraq entirely, regardless of whether any money is paid. "I don't like them and I never will," says Ra'ad Hassan Yousef, another Karada resident. "They are a bunch of mercenaries hired to do the dirty work the Army will not do. The Americans should use their own troops and their own convoys." Yousef added, "Certainly I would like to see them leaving the country." With reporting by Ali al-Shaheen