Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Sex Trafficking.. Baghdad’s Underground Vestibules

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Investigative Report

by Ahmed Al-Rabehi & Hassan Al-Nasseri, Baghdad

  In November 2014, Endommi, a young girl of 14 years of age, was seen standing alone on the corner of Al-Nahdha parking lot, Al-Rassffa neighborhood, Baghdad. She had never seen or visited that city before, neither had she anything in this world but 70,000 Iraqi dinars ($55), a small handbag and a cell phone through which she was attempting to call someone without receiving any answer.

  “I was looking around me, watching the eyes of drivers and passengers following my footsteps. I stood there as if my legs were pinned to the ground and my tears began pouring down. I had nowhere to go, neither had I any idea what to do. I really felt distressed and helpless just like a missing child, waiting desperately for whoever can lend me a hand.” Endommi said.

 Her journey from Sulmaneya, in the far north of Iraq, to her destination was no doubt encompassed with many risks. The main roads between the north and mid parts of the country were then controlled by the militants of the so-called Islamic state organization, known in Arabic as ‘Daesh’, who were advancing forward to seize more and more territories, while spreading terror and chaos throughout the country.

 The beauty of her large near- blue eyes and her seemingly pale white complexion, together with her poor Arabic accent, revealed to all those in the park area her Kurdish nationality. Then after an hour of boring anticipation, a man in his fifties approached her, under the pretext of offering help. And by evening time, Endommi found herself crossing the first walls of the sex trade world.

 On the 23rd of February 2012, Iraq’s parliament endorsed the anti-human trafficking law, the text of which regards “the enlistment or sheltering of persons, by means of threat, or coercive force, or any form of fraudulence or deceit, with the objective of having them sold or being exploited in harlotry practices or sexual exploitation, or enslavement- regards all such illegal practices as forms of human trafficking.

 This investigation discloses through the testimonies given by five women victims (from Salmaneya, Anbar, Mosul, Basrah, and Baghdad) the existence of human trafficking gangs in Iraq, who resort to enslavement practices with their victims and force them into working in brothels, cafes, and massage centers. Meanwhile, the report sheds light on the socio-economic factors which had eventually led to the involvement of some women with the sex trafficking networks, and pinpoints the role of some authorities in this file and how it is being covered up by some government officials.

 

Sex Trafficking World

 Endommi, together with some other helpless girls, who got involved in this small locked prostitution world, reside in a house surrounded by a high wall and covered with palm and nabk trees, and protected by a small gate which is scarcely seen open through the day. This mansion seems beautiful and tranquil from the outside, but from the inside, it is terribly hectic with its flagrant stories about the sufferings of the enslavement and exploitation brutalities encompassed with human trafficking. Every victim there has a tragic story to tell.

 After more than half an hour of waiting in one of the small overcrowded cafes downtown the capital Baghdad, Endommi appeared in her velvety red short dress showing most of her white legs, after having agreed to meet me for an interview on condition of anonymity.

 Endommi sat back-bended with her two lower limbs approaching one another and with hands strongly crossed. She began detailing the horrific story of fleeing home in Salmaneya (381 km north east of the capital Baghdad), after the collapse of the security apparatus in the city. With intermittent words and teary eyes, she began describing how sad her mother was about her, and how she heard later on about her sad death a few months after her elopement.

  “I was hardly 14 years of age when my father made up his mind to marry me off to a Kurdish person from our city.  He was (33) years older than me. Everything was done very hastily after my father had received six million Iraqi dinars as a dowry for accepting such a marriage bargain.” she said. “I was leading a rather peculiar life with such a rather old man, being treated as a prostitute, not a wife. That what made me think of committing suicide.” Endommi added.

  “My family lived a period in ‘Karkuk’, where I learned Arabic. I have never been to Baghdad, neither had I any relation with anyone there, except a Facebooker girl friend, who encouraged me to flee home and move to the capital instead of killing myself. But to my regret, she also disappeared and her cell phone became out of service.” Endommi said.

  She added while moving both hands in the air, “The moment I arrived in Baghdad, in a state of desperate loss, an old man approached me. He seemed friendly when he offered me a tissue to wipe my teary eyes. I soon told him that I didn’t have any relations there or anywhere to go. That what made him offer me a shelter in a safe place. I really had no option but to accept.”

 More than twenty other girls, two of whom are from the capital Baghdad, and the others are from other western and central governorates, are sharing Endommi the same house, which is run by a woman named ‘Om Feras’.

 The very early days of ‘Endommi’ with ‘Om Feras’ were rather horrible. She kept on crying for over a couple of weeks. But her employers managed to persuade her that there was no hope to get reunited with her family again, menacing to put her to death if she could dare to ask or even think of returning home again.

  Now it is time for Endommi to start a new chapter in her life. ‘Om Feras’ prepares her every night, giving a lot of attention to her make up, exterior clothes and underwear, prior to being transferred to the clients’ places, to practice adultery almost every day, and be back home in the morning in a private car.

  Endommi tries by all means to save some money away from her employers’ eyes. Every single night she receives around $200, $120 of which goes into her employer’s pockets, in return of providing her with shelter and food, whereas she keeps roughly $80 for herself.

  From Wife to ISIL’s Fighter to Trafficking Victim

 ‘Om Khadiga’, who has not reached her (40) years yet, lives in the very same house. In the morning she is used to work in one of Baghdad’s cafes, and in the evening she turns into a harlot. She is sometimes transferred to one of the whorehouses to practice sex for some money.

 ‘Om Khadiga’ arrived in Baghdad with the help of her mother after the death of her husband, ‘one of the Emirs appointed by ISIL Organization in the city of Ramadi (110 Km west of the capital Baghdad). “His murder was actually my only escape from his brutality and mercilessness that had lasted for long miserable years.” she said.

 Her journey to Baghdad started in mid 2015, after paying $25,000 to one of ISIL’s elements, to help her leave the besieged city, with the company of her (15) years old daughter.

 ‘Om Khadiga’, who is holding a diploma in business administration, rented a very bad house east of the capital. A few days later she began working with one of the NGOs, but she quitted the organization three months later because of the very low wage she was receiving for her semi-voluntary work.

 “I got accidentally acquainted with a woman who offered me work as a masseuse in one of the massage centers for a monthly salary of $ 750, plus extra sums of money reaching at times as high as 25,000 Iraqi dinars to be paid directly from the center’s clients, in return of additional services”, Om Khadiga said.

 A few months later, ‘Om Khadiga’ got surprised on being informed of the existence of video clips picturing her while practicing sex with one of the center’s clients. She was then blackmailed into selling her only daughter, ‘Wassan’, to a woman pimp for $5000.

 ‘Om Khadiga’ did not give up to such blackmail at first, but she was compelled to surrender at last, on condition of staying with her daughter in the new house. As part of the deal, she herself was also sold to ‘Om Faraas for $2500.

 “I cried a lot on the first night my daughter was taken from me. It was as if my soul and heart were mercilessly plucked out of my body”, Om Khadiga said. “But these hours were much easier than my bitter feelings on her return the next  morning. She was trembling with fear and the scar of a slap on her left cheek made the situation much harder for me.”, she added.

First Sex Practice

 ” $ 7000 was the price paid for Wassan’s first sex experience when she lost her virginity by a trader from the capital Baghdad, who deflowered her”, said the woman who was actually in her fifties, but seems much younger than her real age, owing to her fascinating beauty and smartness, as seen by the author of this investigation, who managed to arrange a meeting with her through the mediation of a private ‘source’.

 Her mouth was adorned with a bright golden tooth that appeared with every guffaw she let out during her talk to attract everybody’s attention, and her bright yellow hair falling on her shoulders made her much prettier.

  Conditional on having no records or photos, ‘Om Faraas’ agreed to have a press interview and talk about the nature of her prostitution activity and the way women are lured into the sex trade.

 ‘Om Faraas’ makes an average income of more than $5000 daily from sending her girls to the cafes in the morning and hiring them as harlots during night time.

 She claims that the monies gained from harlotry trade are not all net profits for her, because she is being forced to pay hush money to several people, including official bodies to secure their protection, and keep away from the harlots working with her. Money is also paid to some gangs who provide her over the year with new girls, who are enticed into the sex trade either through blackmailing or through threat, or through the allure of money. She purchases such girls; the price of each depends mainly on their age, virginity and beauty.

Sex Exploitation is Chronic Issue

 Iraq was considered one of the countries, which managed to succeed to a large extent in confining cases of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, particularly after the issuance of the ‘Personal Status Law NO (188) of 1959. This law bans even coercive marriages and polygamy. However, the sex trade phenomenon came back with its ugly face in the 90s of the previous century and escalated further after the collapse of the ex-regime in 2003.

 On the 9th of January 2018, the spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Abdul Sataar Al-Beraqdaar, announced the detention of a gang consisting of (5) individuals in Nasereya city (375 km south of the capital Baghdad) for taking girls’ trafficking as a profession.

  Those trafficking elements confessed, according to what the judge said, that they managed to bring (4) girls to the capital Baghdad on the pretext of marriage through ‘Instagram’, a social media application. Their confessions were endorsed by the investigation court, as stipulated in Article (5) of the human trafficking law.

 On the 2nd of January of the same year, Baghdad Operations Leadership declared the arrest of another gang consisting of a father and his daughter, for being involved in human trafficking and sale of girls in Al-Sayedeya region, south of the capital.

  A human rights activist, who is also secretary general of ‘Al-Amal Society’, Hanaa Edward, confirms the escalation of the rates of human trafficking crimes, pinpointing the rise in woman elopement cases in the southern and northern regions of the country, upon receiving fake marriage promises from brokers, who entice them through social media websites, with the object of getting them entrapped into human trafficking networks.

 The problem of women being seduced by brokers is lying mainly in their inability to get reunited with their families, due to the tribal and societal customs and traditions, which impose the killing of any girl fleeing her family home. That what actually makes the task of rescuing escapees from the hands of the sex trafficking gangs not only difficult, but also impossible.

 A major in the Interior Ministry, Ali Shaker, says, ” The women who run away from their families and go to the capital Baghdad, are most often compelled to obtain fake document papers and passports using false names and different titles, with the object of disguise, making it difficult for their families to chase or find them through security apparatuses.”.

  ‘Shaker’ points out that the victims’ families inform the police about the vanishing of their daughters through official reports, claiming they have been abducted or missed. In response, their photos and names are dispatched to the concerned security authorities in all Iraq’s governorates, whereas some families try to look for their daughters themselves in the capital, but most of the search operations are regretfully of no avail.

 However, many cases of girls being killed by their own families have been registered, an action regarded by Arab tribes as ‘washing disgrace’. Iraq’s judiciary authority commuted the punishment stipulated for such a murder crime, classifying it under honor laundering crimes, whose sentence does not in any way exceed a six-month imprisonment or one year at most.

 Female Majors Detained in the UAE

  Meanwhile, ‘Al-Amal Society’, which is closely monitoring the situation, revealed ‘the existence of dozens of Iraqi girls and women under custody within the United Arab Emirates, assuring by its Secretary General, ‘Edward’, the presence of smuggling operations of Iraqi females to the gulf states, Lebanon and Jordon, being promised of work opportunities, and then they are trafficked.”, she said.

 Edward tells briefly the story of an Iraqi underage girl, who refused to see the author of this investigation and authorized Edward to tell her story on her behalf. This girl got acquainted with a Syrian youth through Facebook. He was living with his mother and lured her into travelling to Syria after asking her hand for marriage. Hence, her family blessed the marriage due to their very difficult economic conditions.

 On her arrival to Syria, the girl found out that the mother of the young man proposing to her was running one of the nightclubs. She was coerced into working as a ‘dancer’ in the nightclub after being divorced, and a year later she was transferred to the United Arab Emirates, after failing to go back to Iraq.

 The author of this investigation failed to obtain any official statement from the UAE’s Interior Ministry, which didn’t answer a message emailed by him to the ministry’s official electronic website, in which he inquired about the numbers of Iraqi girls and women, being held in custody in the Emirates for harlotry.

 Iraq’s judiciary issued several reports and statistics during the last three years in which it revealed the existence of networks practicing human trafficking, and running rings involved in luring women into working in brothels and whorehouses.

 The information office of the Supreme Judicial Council stated in a report published by ‘Al-Qaddaa’ Newspaper, in June 2006, that they endorsed the confessions made by one of the human trafficking networks, in which they admitted selling several women at $2500, and they receive nothing from their prostitution work, except the provision of shelter, food, and clothing.

 Two Sex Victims Fallen by ‘Zeid’ 

  At one of the cafes in Marassat region, downtown the capital Baghdad, a young girl named ‘Rafah ‘ (24 years) is seen moving around the place to offer the hubble-bubble and serve the clients sitting at tables there. She is never ever safe from being verbally harassed throughout her shift hours.

‘Rafah’ left ‘Mosul’ after ISIL Organization ‘known in Arabic as Daesh’, took up the reins of the city in June 2014. She was accompanied by both her mother and sister, after her father had been killed by ISIL. Her father was working as a policeman nine months before the organization dominated the city.

 She spent five months in a displacement camp, north of Mosul, before getting acquainted with ‘Zeid’ in the course of a visit paid by one of the human rights organizations to their encampment. He persuaded her to leave the camp and travel to the capital Baghdad, with a promise to secure both her and her sister well-paid jobs. “I reluctantly agreed due to our difficult living conditions, despite my apparent worry about Zeid’s behaviour and inner motives.” she said.

 Rafah, accompanied by her small family, arrived in Baghdad, where they were transferred to a small furnished flat in Al-Bataween neighborhood, downtown the city. A week after her arrival, she began working in a café, whereas her sister was employed in a coiffeur saloon.

  Zeid, who was working with a trafficking network involved in luring girls into Baghdad, according to Rafah’s testimony, took upon himself the payment of the rent for three months. “But after a few weeks, he offered me $1500 for spending a red night with a client”, she said. ” I finally agreed after he threatened to kick us out of the flat, and fire both me and my sister, together with other threats. There seemed to be no way to back out”, she exclaimed.

  A few weeks later, her sister was coerced into working in one of the massage centers. “I was threatened by a video clip picturing me while taking a shower in the saloon shop”, says Rafan’s sister, Alyaa.

  Yazidi Women Everlasting Ordeal

 On the 3rd of August 2014, ISIL stormed into Sinjar city (120 km north west of Mosul), which is inhabited by a majority of Yazidis. They kidnapped about 3550 girls and women, less than 2000 of whom managed to flee or be rescued after paying ransoms, whereas the destiny of roughly 1580 is still unknown.

  And with the domination of approximately 90% of Ninewa Governorate, and imposition of control over large areas of territories, where Christians, Yazidis and Shabaks, and the establishment of what the organization called ‘the empowerment land’; many markets were opened to sell the Yazidis abducted from Iraq and some Christians from Syria.

  The two cities of Mosul and Syrian Raqa were turned into main markets for slave trade, where Yazidis were publicly sold, in addition to the existence of other slave markets in Falogga, Howega, Bokamal, and Haska.

  In October, 2014, ISIL stated in their English language magazine ‘Dabeq’ that the organization’s soldiers are in the process of selling the abducted Yazidi women and some children, calling them ‘Sabaya’.

 The price limited for every Yazidi woman within the age group of (30-40) years is 75,000 Iraqi dinars, whereas 100,000 Iraqi dinars (that is $80) for the women between 20 and 30 years of age, and 150,000 Iraqi dinars (equivalent to $120) for younger girls ranging between 10 and 20 years of age.

  Meanwhile, some documents and personal accounts of several ISIL’s fighters on social media showed that some young beautiful Yazidi women were sold with amounts ranging between $500 and $2500, while the sale price of most of the young girls and some children between 1 and 9 years reached 200,000 Iraqi dinars (roughly $163).

  In a village neighboring the Yazidi ‘Lalsh Temple’ (60 km north west of Mosul city),  ‘Nagham’, a helpless girl in her mid twenties, is seen leaning on a wooden chair, whose manufacture dates back to the 50s of the last century. She could not sit on the floor, like her other family members, as a result of the serious injury inflicted on her, while being tortured by some of ISIL’s elements.

  Both ‘Nagham’ and her sister were kidnapped by some of ISIL’s elements downtown Sinjar city, after all her family male members were put to death. “After being kept in custody in some boroughs close to Sinjar, I was led to a Syrian city, which I got  to know later on that it was ‘Al-Raqa’, she said.

 Nagham and her sister were kept in custody for over three weeks within one of the organization’s ‘guest houses’, until “I was offered with a number of other Yazidi girls for sale in a public auction shared by dozens of men, the majority of whom were from amongst the organization’s elements.”, she said.

  Nagham was sold for $80, whereas the fate of her younger sister (9 years), who was sold for $500 is still unknown.

 Nagham says, “Most of the people wandering in the slave market were foreigners, who pay large amounts of money for the girls under 9 years of age.”.

  Nagham’s family is still desperately searching for their daughter, whose destiny is still unknown, just like more than other abducted 1500 Yazidi girls and women. They hope to find her some day and bring her back home, but being kidnapped at such a young age seems to make matters more difficult.

  The sufferings left by the organization of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) are not solely confined to the kidnapped female Yazidis, but extend to affect even those rescued alive, who are now suffering from various psychiatric diseases, not to mention the difficulty of having them re-integrated with the society.

 Another more serious suffering is represented in those women, who were impregnated by the organization’s fighters, such as the victim ‘Ahlam’, whose family asked her to get rid of her son, who has not yet completed his third year, if she wants to be back home.

  ‘Ahlam’ (24 years), who is now staying in a displacement camp located in the outskirts of ‘Dahok’, far away from her family, says,” My life has turned into hell. Here, there’s poverty, deprivation and fear, but how can I abandon or quit my innocent son. What’s his guilt? … He has nothing in this world but me, after his father had been killed… There are so many mothers who are threatened to be killed because of that.”

Human Trafficking in Displacement Camps

  A counselor with the Interior Ministry, ‘Wahab Al-Taee’, confirmed in the course of a talk with the author of this investigation ‘the receipt of several complaints from women who were coerced into practicing sex, taking advantage of their very dire living conditions’.

  Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior reservedly deals with human trafficking cases, particularly those connected with women being coercively exploited as articles in the ‘sex trade’. Oftentimes, officials refuse to dwell into the details of such cases, justifying it as a way to ‘preserve the structure of the Iraqi society’. “Such sensitive cases cannot be remedied by mudslinging or defamation of women.”, says the ministry’s consultant.

  Meanwhile, Iraq’s Human Rights Observatory warned of the escalating danger of human trafficking operations in Iraq, referring through his chairman, Mustafa Sadoun, to monitoring cases of women being sexually abused in cafes, including underage girls. He demands the executive authorities “to take practical measures capable of limiting or ending the human trafficking phenomenon in the country once and for all.”

  ‘Al-Amal Society’ and some human rights activists pointed out that displacement centers have registered several human trafficking and sexual exploitation transactions perpetrated by organized gangs, taking into considerable account that most of those people staying in these shelter centers are from amongst the underprivileged and middle classes.”

 That very same phenomenon was pinpointed by ‘Rezan Dleer’, parliamentary member of the ‘Woman and Family Committee’ in the former parliament. She said she had been prevented from entering the displacement camps in Kurdistan region, “That happened after my insistence to disclose human trafficking cases within encampments”, she said and referred to the absence of clear-cut  plans by the government and NGOs, aiming at fighting human trafficking”.

 In the meantime, ‘Dleer’ accused some ‘executive’ bodies, unnamed by her, of standing behind the exploitation of the dire human conditions of the émigrés in different shelter camps and elsewhere, with the object of having them hired at cafes and ‘brothels’, where they are sexually manipulated.

  On his part, the spokesman for the Ministry of Immigration, Star Norrose, pointed out to the author of this investigation, that neither his ministry nor its sources, which are prevalent in almost all immigration and displacement  camps, have actually registered any violations against women. That very same opinion was agreed by the chairman of Iraq’s Human Rights Observatory, Mustafa Saadoon, who confirmed the existence of strict observation of all displacement camps by both the government and other local and international organizations.

 In a large country like Iraq, it is really hard to get access to precise information and statistics easily, particularly as regards crime files and corruption operations, since the concerned authorities seem reluctant to disclose most of the statistics and figures, under the pretext of its negative impact on the society in general, and on  work, in particular.

  In this regard, director of the Societal Police in Baghdad, brigadier general Khaled Al-Mehna, says, ” I’m not authorized to disclose any accurate data or statistics concerning human trafficking transactions”. He confirmed that the main task of his directorate lies in ‘ collecting data and conducting specific studies and researches on societal crimes, including among other things human trade, and then submitting the results reached to the executive bodies.

  ‘Al-Mehna’ revealed the manipulation of the cafes and massage centers by the gangs as a façade to promote their sex trade, assuring the existence of around 60 massage centers in the capital Baghdad only, which usually tantamount to ‘ sex rooms’, under the guise of massage.

  He also confirmed the existence of over 100 cafes and coffee shops in the capital, most of their cadres are women, particularly young girls and teenagers, who are being exploited in harlotry practices.

 Meanwhile, most of the nightclubs, many of which are disguised under the name of ‘cultural centers’, are remarkably widespread downtown the capital Baghdad, particularly in the regions of ‘Al-Karada’, ‘Al-Marasat’, and in ‘Abu Nawas Street’, overlooking Degla River. Their number increased greatly during the last four years, corresponding to only a handful of nightclubs before the year 2010.

  The nightclubs which depend mainly on women to attract clients make millions of dollars, according to the information obtained from an officer serving with the Interior Ministry. The data available so far, as per one of the officers, refers that “the daily revenues achieved by one of the nightclubs, equipped with a gambling hall, in Baghdad amount to (1-1.5) million dollars. That was confirmed by MP ‘Faaek Al-Sheikh Ali’ on 27/10/2016 during a press conference, where he disclosed that some political parties, which he unnamed, obtain as much as half a million US dollars per day from the gambling halls and nightclubs.

 

 

 Human Trafficking Mafias

  The Supreme Commissariat for Human Rights doesn’t regretfully possess any precise data or statistics on human trafficking transactions. The only information they have refers to the existence of human trafficking mafias, and the horrific prevalence of sex trade allover the country.

Such mafias ‘take the best advantage of women and children’ and lure them into practicing harlotry, while operating under several disguises, according to ‘Faten Al-Halffy’, member of ‘Human Rights Commissariat’.

 The author of this investigation, through some private sources and intermediaries, managed to meet with one of the senior persons engaging in sex trade, known as the ‘Boss’. In the course of his talk, he revealed ‘the existence of over (80) brothels in Baghdad only, operating publicly, most of which are located in ‘Al-Tawayel’ region, west of the capital, in addition to more than (170) camouflaged commercial units, most of which are massage centers and cafes, engaging in the sex trade’.

  The ‘Boss’ revealed ‘the employment of over one thousand women in the harlotry business in Baghdad only, most of whom are from the ………….governorates, but this number is much less in other governorates.

 Early in the year 2013, the acuteness of the armed attacks targeting nightclubs and alcoholics shops escalated intensively. Such attacks were waged by some unknown armed groups, who did not exclude the brothels and the whorehouses operating in the capital Baghdad.

 On the evening of 12/7/ 2014, in the brothels of ‘Zayona’ neighborhood, east of the capital, an armed group opened the fires of their machine guns on a group of men and women within two blocks of flats (NO 43 and 44), killing 25 women and wounding 10 others, half of whom are men, who were inside the targeted whorehouses.

 Surprisingly enough, that accident occurred a few meters away from ‘Zayona’ security checkpoint, affiliated to the federal police force.  The only procedure taken in the wake of this carnage, as indicated by the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, major general ‘Saad Maan’, was the confinement of the security force responsible for the residential block, which came under attack.

  The 12th of June massacre was not actually the first one perpetrated in ‘Zayona’ or in Baghdad in general, but on 18/5/2014, an armed group assassinated (4) women in the same area using muffler weapons. Another armed group murdered (5) women on the 3rd of June of the same year in ‘Al-Karada’, a region known to have intensive security fortifications, downtown the capital Baghdad.

 Strangely enough, the attacks targeting the nightclubs and brothels suddenly decreased at roughly 90% after 2015, and  nightclubs began to practice their normal activity without being exposed to any threat by anyone.

 Corruption Whales behind Trafficking

 The Secretary General of ‘Al-Amal Society’, ‘Hanaa Edward’, accused what she dubbed ‘corruption whales’, of standing behind human trafficking operations, pointing out that ‘some officials secure protection for massage centers, nightclubs and other recreational shops. In the very same context, ‘Rezaan Dleer’, member of the Woman Committee, refers to the ‘involvement of some armed groups in human trafficking cases, and in running and protecting harlotry networks’.

 Meanwhile, more than five government officials, including a counselor with the Interior Ministry and the chief of the Societal Police Force, refused to reveal the names of the bodies standing behind the human trafficking networks, and are just dubbing them ‘gangs’.

  Colonel (.. Al-Shamarry) admitted the difficulty of dealing with human trafficking cases, simply because such networks are closely related to a big financial  corruption suit. The arrest of such networks necessitates a series of references, and above all the support of the senior officials of the Interior Ministry, in collaboration with the other supportive public apparatuses.

The author of this investigation met with several activists and politicians, who confirmed that armed groups and political powers close to some influential parties are behind such trade.

  Blackmailing Operations

 In a residential building close to the national theater, downtown Baghdad, resides ‘Heba Al-Basraweya’, from Basra Governorate (540 km in the far south of the capital Baghdad). She takes the best advantage of her dark attractive brown complexion, fascinating smile, and beautiful slim figure, to entrap her sex clients in the course of her work in one of the downtown cafes, in front of her employers’ very eyes.

  Soon after the author of this investigation met with ‘Heba’ at one of the press offices, she broke into tears. He was obliged to stop the interview for ten minutes or so, until she could regain her balance and talk.

 ‘Heba’ (21 years) descends from a poor family. Her only brother, who is overwhelmed with a religious ‘hard-line’ character, prevented her from resuming her university study, under the pretext of not mixing with the other sex. Upon his strict orders, she was locked all day indoors and cannot  leave the house, unless necessary, and in the company of either he himself or one of her parents.

  ‘Heba’ got acquainted with a Facebook friend and fell in love with him. “Our relation had lasted two years, before we finally met face to face nearby home, taking advantage of the time my brother was at work. But to my bad luck, my brother got to know through one of our neighbors that I had been with someone outdoors”, she said.

  ‘Heba’ had no option but to run away from home, after having been exposed, as she said, to all forms of torture at the hands of her brother. “I made my way to the capital Baghdad without having any shelter there. I could not even contact my lover, after my brother had confiscated my cell phone”, she said.

 Just like the other victim ‘Endommi’, ‘Heba’ was induced by a taxi driver working with some human trafficking gangs. “I accompanied him to his house to find his wife and two children waiting for him. At first sight, there was nothing suspicious there.” she said.

  An intelligence officer at the Interior Ministry in the capital, who refused to disclose his name, revealed to the author of this investigation the widespread presence of human trafficking gangs at the southern and northern parking lots of Baghdad, who entrap the girls and women fleeing the governorates, taking Baghdad as their destination.

 Only four days after her arrival to the driver’s house, ‘Heba’ found herself fast asleep after having drunk a glass of orange juice. When she got up in the next morning, she was shocked on watching a video clip picturing her naked, with the proprietor of the house hugging her.

 “He sold me for $3000 after threatening to put the video into circulation and then hand me to my family, after he got to know that I am from Basrah, if I ever refuse to obey his orders. I had no option but to give in”, she said.

 Heba was then purchased by one of brothels’ directors, who did not know that she is still strong, in spite of all the difficult circumstances she had experienced. “I refused to practice sex and attempted to run away but there was no way out. I was chained, raped, and tortured until I lost consciousness.” she said.

  Several months later, ‘Heba’ was sold again to another group, thanks to her physical fitness that enables her to work in addition to practicing sex. “I was employed in one of the cafes during daytime, while being forced into practicing sex through the newly introduced free ‘delivery’ service at night.” she said.

In What Way was ‘Zena’ Seduced?

 Sex trafficking networks and whorehouses’ operators, began to manipulate camouflage methods in order to promote their harlotry trade, just like massage centers and cafes. They resorted to opening Facebook accounts for delivery service, and used companies of cleaning services as facades to cover up their practices; as stated by a source from Baghdad intelligence, who refused to disclose his name.

  In one of Al-Karada alleys, an old residential house was reconstructed, carrying a big sign for a cleaning company. However, a few months later, this company was transferred to another location in the city. Their camouflage strategy is to keep on changing the location of their business once every eight months.

  Zena (34 years), was the first one employed in that cleaning company after she had been polarized, on the basis of working as a house cleaner, if need be. But a few weeks later, she was offered to provide ‘extra services’ for some clients during her visits to their houses.

 ‘Zena’ was compelled, as she said, to accept their offer owing to her difficult financial status. She wants to make enough money so that she can afford paying the rent of her flat and feeding her three kids, after she had lost her husband in one of the explosions perpetrated in the capital Baghdad four year before.

 ‘Zena’ says, “I’m transferred through delivery service to the client’s house on the plea of cleaning. However, I have sex with the client in return of the money he pays to the company through me, but I keep the tips I receive for myself.

   In the same context, the Supreme Judicial Council published a report in June 2016, in ‘Al-Kaddaa’ Newspaper, which is issued by the council itself. Such report announced the arrest of a human trafficking network providing a new service to its customers known as ‘free delivery’.

   The text of Iraq’s Penal Code NO (111) of 1969, regards “the arrest or detention of any person, depriving him of his freedom either coercively or through deceit, or transferring him anywhere against his will or consent, or preventing him to walk out, for any specific purpose – regards it as an abduction crime.”.

 The very same law assigns from Article (421) to article (427) the punishment stipulated for woman abduction. It ranges between death penalty and life imprisonment, if the kidnapping involves rape of the abducted woman. However, this punishment was stiffened as per Law NO (1) of 2002 to solely become capital punishment for copulation of the abducted.

  Nevertheless, the ‘Anti-Human Trafficking Law’ endorsed on the 23rd of February 2012, commuted the punishment of human trafficking, which is regarded in the Penal Code as abduction crimes, to the extent of making it no longer deterring for the trafficking gangs, according to the legal expert ‘Tareq Harb’.

This law lifted the death penalty for abduction and human trafficking crimes, except in the case of the victim’s death, whereas Articles 5, 6, 7 and 9 of the same law is contented with the imprisonment punishment for a period not exceeding (15) years for both human traffickers and women abductors, with maximal fines of (25) million Iraqi dinars.

 Salvation Hope

 Director of Child Welfare Corporation at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, ‘Abeer Al-Galabi’, confirmed the effectuation of noticeable changes in the procedures taken by the government in dealing with the women victims being trafficked. She referred to  the establishment of a ‘public welfare home’ for the victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, which she called the ‘secure home’.

  In the course of the session held by the Cabinet on the 6th of September, 2017, and chaired by Prime Minister ‘Haider Al-Abaddi’, they voted on a project for the rehabilitation of human trafficking victims.

  Al-Galabbi stated that the higher commission entrusted with fighting human trafficking supervises directly the center established for human trafficking victims in the capital Baghdad. Since its inauguration in December, 2017, that center, which is considered the first of its kind in the country, sheltered two cases of human trafficking by virtue of a judicial order.

  ‘Al-Galabbi’ pointed out that the center provides a safe haven for human trafficking victims, particularly women, who are being rehabilitated in conformity with specific programs, including psychiatric rehabilitation and remedy of the physical harms caused after being coercively exposed to sex exploitation. This, in addition to teaching them some handicrafts and skills such as sewing, with the object of having them re-integrated in the society.

 ‘Endommi’ smiled with relief on being informed about the public ‘safe haven’, and soon after, she looked high at the café ceiling, cutting her smile with a gesture of fright drawn on her face. She kept silent for a short while, and then said while leaving her seat, “I don’t know when I can rid myself of this horrific nightmare, but who knows, some day I might be able to escape far away.”

  • The author is reserved about mentioning any real name or residence of anyone talking in this investigation, including all women, and some officers of the Interior Ministry, upon their respected request.

  • This investigation was achieved with the support of ‘NIRIJ”, Network of Iraq’s Investigative Journalism, a briefing of which was published in the ‘Darag’ Website, concerned with Middle East