Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Iraq: Militant groups run extortion rackets

The parliamentary Security and Defence Committee revealed further details of the murky world of Iraq's militant movements this month. The committee reported that it had uncovered a series of extortion rackets being run by militant groups, some of them linked to Al-Qa'ida, in a number of governorates including Ninevah, Al-Anbar and Salehedinne. These militants are systematically blackmailing government officials and local businessmen. Police in Ninevah confirmed this month that they had arrested 13 members of a cell that was forcing officials from local government departments to pay up.

Among those targeted by these gangs are officials in the Oil Ministry. In particular, Oil Ministry employees working in these three governorates are being forced to hand over oil tankers to the militants, which they then sell on. What is even more disconcerting about the parliamentary committee's findings is that they discovered that while many of these officials are being forced to supply money to the militant groups, others are co-operating willingly. The committee announced that it has the names of a number of local government officials who have been helping to finance the groups. Such news only confirms existing suspicions about state institutions being infiltrated by members of or, at the very least, those who are sympathetic to the militant groups that are once again proliferating now that US troops have withdrawn.

'Emo' killings

In another sinister turn of events, it came to light this month that armed Islamist groups operating primarily in Baghdad have taken to carrying out brutal attacks against teenagers they deem to be deviating from the 'straight path'. According to local sources, over 100 young people have been killed by these groups, with the most common form of death being hit over the head by concrete blocks. Some of the youth were clearly tortured before being killed. Security forces in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad reported this month that they had found the corpse of a young male, whose body showed signs of torture.

All those killed were labelled as 'emos' – a term to denote young people who listen to punk-like music, who dress in black, often with tattoos and piercings, and who generally adopt a melancholy disposition. Emo males often have long spiky hair and sometimes wear make-up, while emo females tend to adopt an edgy attitude. These young people appear to the Islamist militants as the very epitome of westernisation and degeneration. There is also a strong fear that their habit of sporting skulls and piercings indicate that these emos are somehow involved in devil worship.

The attacks are believed to be the work of an armed underground religious group that goes by the name of the Wrath Brigades and that accuses its victims of 'sexual deviation'. The Shi'ite extremist group recently published a list containing dozens of names of emos, who they threatened to kill. It also went as far as to upload videos of killings on YouTube. The wave of attacks has terrified families in Baghdad to the point where young people who do not conform to conservative codes of dress are afraid to leave their homes.

The Interior Ministry has done its utmost to quell the fear: it has played down the attacks, insisting that no more than 15 teenagers were killed. It also asserted that they were killed because of social reasons related to revenge rather than because they were 'emos'. The Shi'ite religious establishment, meanwhile, has banned the killing of these young people. However, for all it may have condemned the killings, it seems as though the government may also be behind the push to eliminate the emo phenomenon. One young emo student told the

Al-Mada newspaper that she had been told by the head of her university faculty to remove a necklace she was wearing that was in the shape of a skull and to change her way of dressing. After asking her why she wanted to make herself look like a devil-worshipper, the professor reportedly showed her a memorandum from the Higher Education Ministry, which is run by the Dawa party's Ali Al- Adeeb, who is known to be particularly rigid religiously.

The memorandum from the ministry reportedly referred to emos as 'Satan worshippers' and instructed members of staff to monitor their students to root out any possible emo cases. The memorandum also instructed university staff to remove emo accessories, to punish offenders and to report their names to the ministry. This memorandum comes on the back of two statements reportedly issued by the Interior Ministry, the first of which announced official approval to “eliminate the Satanists” while the second, published on 29 February, announced a crackdown on shops selling emo clothes.

While it is not directly involved in the killings, it would appear that there may be a kind of tacit approval among some parts of the government for the Wrath Brigades' actions. There are clearly those in the Iraqi establishment who view the emo phenomenon as a dangerous challenge to the country's conservative and religious values.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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