Iraq passport racket highlights lapses in security

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Mon Feb 7 09:04:15 PST 2005


Welcome to The Age Online.

Passport racket highlights lapses in security
By Paul McGeough
February 8, 2005

The passport details the bearer's Arab background but has Paul McGeough's

For a few hundred dollars, anyone can buy their way through most
checkpoints and across borders.

While officials in Baghdad and Washington berate Iraq's neighbours for
failing to block insurgency movements across their borders, one of the most
dangerous security lapses thrives in Baghdad's heart - a trade in illicit
Iraqi passports.

In a secretive exchange at a suburban gambling den, across the road from a
heavily fortified government ministry that is an insurgency target, it
costs only $US200 ($A250) for a pass through most of the security
checkpoints in a city at war.

The ease with which this deal was conducted is a chilling window on the
easy movement of terrorists in and out of the country.

The security blanket in the capital can be numbing - some wait for hours in
snail's-pace queues for access to military, government, political and
private establishments.

Passing through the maze of blast walls and razor wire that isolates the
Green Zone, within which top US and Iraqi officials are bunkered on the
banks of the Tigris River, requires checks at four heavily armed posts only
150 metres apart.

All bags are searched and visitors are frisked, physically and
electronically, at two of them.

At a ministry as mundane as Displacement and Migration there is a twist:
personal IDs are held at the first check; and a special pale blue pass is
issued that must be swapped for a darker blue tag at a second checkpoint
closer to the building.

Journalists reporting on the January 30 election had to carry three
separately issued passes, each of which took half a day or more to be
issued: one from the US-run Combined Press Information Centre; another from
the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior; and the third from the Independent
Electoral Commission of Iraq.

But the starting point for any pass is a valid passport. And in the absence
of most of the fancy laminated picture passes, a passport, or any other
picture ID, say a driver's licence, are likely to get the bearer through
most checkpoints.

But take the Iraqi passport pictured above. It gives the name of the
bearer's Arab mother and it describes him as a Baghdad businessman - but it
has a picture of me. It was acquired through a former Iraqi policeman who
replied cryptically when asked what his business was: "I'm retired."

This is not a backstreet counterfeit, it is said to be real. It was to cost
$US100 and could have been turned around in a couple of hours, but it was
ordered during the weekend and had to be delivered 48 hours later.

In the best opportunist tradition, the price suddenly doubled at the point
of collection.

The passport racket emerged last week in interviews with insurgency and
criminal elements in Baghdad.

They said Sabah al-Baldawi, one of the insurgency's top financiers and the
man they say is behind most of the kidnapping in the city, moves freely
between Baghdad and Damascus using up to 20 false passports.

One said false Iraqi documents were used to spirit Saad al-Kharki, an
insurgency leader in Baghdad, out of Iraq when he needed to hide in Cairo
after a televised alert that authorities were hunting him.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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