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Crime Casts Fear in Iraq

The shooting death of Hussein's former doctor underscores how lawlessness and terror have spread since the dictator's ouster.

August 03, 2003|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — A man walked into Dr. Mohammed Alrawi's private clinic in an upscale part of the capital last Sunday moaning and complaining so loudly of kidney pain that he was ushered straight past waiting patients.

Inside, the "patient" immediately pulled out a pistol and shot the doctor through his right eye, killing him.

As the gunman dashed out, he passed Alrawi's wife, Bushra, who also practices medicine at the clinic. "I looked at his face. I will never forget that face," she recalled.

"I went to my husband. I saw him collapsed in his chair. I hugged him while his blood covered the floor."

Murder is stalking this city. In the aftermath of the U.S. campaign to oust Saddam Hussein, residents who have no memory of violent street crime during his iron-fisted rule are now being terrorized by killers -- not to mention thieves and vandals -- whose motives range from retribution to rapaciousness. The crime wave poses a challenge for the U.S.-led occupation as it grapples with a multitude of problems -- electricity shortages, joblessness and a guerrilla campaign among them -- that have destabilized this shattered country. Iraqi police have started to work, but ineffectually. They defer to the U.S. soldiers, who often have no clue about what is going on in the streets and alleys around them.

Alrawi, 52, was a former dean of Baghdad University, physician to Hussein and chairman of the Iraqi Physicians Syndicate. His family believes he is the latest victim of reprisal killings aimed at prominent members of the former Hussein government. Others think that is farfetched -- maybe it was a personal vendetta of some sort, they say, or a botched robbery.

As hundreds of his relatives, friends and colleagues mourned Alrawi at his funeral Wednesday, trying to make sense of the crime, officials with the Iraqi police and the U.S.-led occupation authority said they had no information about the investigation. At the Yarmouk police station, the U.S. staff sergeant in charge struggled to remember the case. His Iraqi interpreter, trying to help, reminded him that Alrawi was a very important man.

Once-privileged families such as the Alrawis have been left vulnerable and confused in the wake of Hussein's fall. Sunni Muslims who enjoyed favor under the Baath Party, they now live in fear of retribution from poorer sectors.

But others are being targeted as well.

People who work with the U.S. authorities have been victims. Haifa Aziz Daoud, the manager of an electricity distribution office in Baghdad, was gunned down in June by someone who rang her doorbell at 7 a.m. She died in her daughter's arms. Seven newly graduated police recruits in the city of Ramadi were blown up by a bomb set in a bag of rice last month. And the U.S.-sponsored mayor in Haditha was shot to death with his son while driving around the western Iraqi city.

Anyone who owns a car faces the threat of carjacking, as bold bandits stage assaults in broad daylight, often killing their victims as an afterthought.

That was the case Wednesday morning with Faaz Ghani Aziz, the director of Vegetable Oils Co. in southern Baghdad. His driver came to his house to take him to work. They had gone 100 yards from his home when two cars blocked the road. The men demanded Aziz's Nissan sedan.

Aziz gave it up, but when a neighbor fired at the carjackers, they turned back and shot Aziz and his driver to death. There was no political motive for the killing, only robbery, neighbors said later.

Although no statistics are available, coalition authorities say the murder rate in Baghdad is no greater than in any major U.S. city. Still, restoring security to the streets has been a top priority for the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III.

He has brought in Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner, to reform Iraq's police. The blunt-spoken Kerik now has almost 5,000 Iraqi police officers working in Baghdad, although he would like to see three times that number.

Crime is not a problem that is going to be fixed in a day, he tells reporters at his frequent briefings. The solution, he says, lies in the steady professionalization of law enforcement here.

In one show of force last week, Iraqi police cordoned off the central market area of downtown Baghdad -- which had been terrorized by criminals -- and then swooped in and made about 50 arrests, to the cheers of vendors and residents. Such operations are designed to demonstrate to Iraqis that security is being restored.

But the tactics aren't convincing for many here, including Alrawi's survivors, who spoke bitterly about the absence of law and order.

"It is the responsibility of George W. Bush and Paul Bremer who told us before that they would give us security," Alrawi's son Yassir, 21, said between greeting mourning friends of his father at the mosque where the memorial was held.

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