Death Checkpoints
Armed gunmen on Kirkuk-Baghdad road

July 3, 2018 at 8:46 am

Khalis, 11 March 2017, vehicle drivers block Kirkuk-Baghdad road. Photo Karwan Salhi

Khalis, 11 March 2017, vehicle drivers block Kirkuk-Baghdad road. Photo Karwan Salhi

Narin Rostam

Uncle Majid’s worst fear came true when he was caught in a sham checkpoint of unidentified armed men.

Many have been killed or abducted through such checkpoints, he recalled, and those who had survived lost all their wealth and belongings after a ransom payment.

“I had some passports of the other people. When the armed men tried to take them, I didn’t allow them. However, they took my car after a lot of torture,” Uncle Majid told KirkukNow.

Kirkuk-Baghdad road is 250 km long, going along several towns and cities. The road has never been safe since 2003.

After 12 years of driving on this road, Uncle Majid was able to rescue his life but lost his car. However, not everyone enjoys such an opportunity, “They abducted one of my sons last month. They asked for 10 thousand US dollars, but they killed him later anyway.”

He believes the armed men in those checkpoints are not ISIS, but supported by Baghdad. Baghdad has been issuing decrees and security briefings to protect the road ever since, to no avail.

Tuz Khurmatu, 1 March 2017, vehicle drivers block Kirkuk-Baghdad road protesting the checkpoint fees. Photo: Karwan Salhi

Tuz Khurmatu, 1 March 2017, vehicle drivers block Kirkuk-Baghdad road protesting the checkpoint fees. Photo: Karwan Salhi

After ISIS militants published a video of abducting six security officers on the same road on 23 June, PM Haidar al-Abbadi issued a decree of search operation on the road. The militants were asking Baghdad to free their female compatriots in Baghdad prisons, but later eight distorted bodies were discovered only four days later and were recognized as abducted security people.

In another brutal act, ISIS set a whole family ablaze from Kirkuk in March, one of them a pregnant woman. The militants opened fire against them, causing the car to burn between Daquq and Tuz Khurmatu districts.

Iraqi government is weak, that’s why people take ransom on this road for a long time.

Twana Najim, 34, owns a transportation company with their vehicles on the daily movement to Baghdad. One day, he received the news of the detention of five of his drivers. Nothing was clear for him, except that the abductees ask for ransom in exchange for their freedom.

“They were asking for money in a clear Arabic, without any excuse. After several attempts and complaints, I was hopeless. I bought their safety for four thousand dollars,” Najim said, “The person who came to take the money in Erbil is a Kurd, and he is known.”

KirkukNow investigations revealed two secret checkpoints on Kirkuk-Baghdad road, one in Hmarin, and the other in Ozeim, both taking money from the drivers. However, people who use the road mention tens of other checkpoints which ask for money. Although Iraqi officials claim that the checkpoints are ISIS militants, some people disagree as their major goal is a small amount of money.

Kirkuk 2015, a number of vehicles on route from Kirkuk to Baghdad. Photo: KirkukNow

Kirkuk 2015, a number of vehicles on route from Kirkuk to Baghdad. Photo: KirkukNow

The vehicle drivers have often waged protests against such acts on the road.

Spokesman of Turkmen Mobilization Forces in Tuz Khurmatu Ali Husseini told KirkukNow, “Iraqi government is weak, that’s why people take ransom on this road for a long time. However, I am not aware of murder and abduction groups, and I don’t believe they exist.”

He challenged anyone who says the opposite to come up with evidence.

Kirkuk-Baghdad road has been closed down several times in the past. In the mid-2014, it fell to ISIS but later opened only after four months. Planted bombs make passage on the road even more difficult.

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