Frazzled Iraqi firefighters bear the heat of terrorists’ tactics
BAGHDAD—OneofIraq’smost perilousjobshasbecomeevenmore dangerous.
The terrorists who daily spread mayhem in the capital increasingly have adopted the tactic of following a suicide bombing with one or two secondary blasts, timed to detonate a few minutes later when a crowd has formed.
And that is bad news for the city’s 3,500 firefighters, whose job demandsthattheyrushtothesceneof every explosion to douse the flames and assist the injured.
“This is part of our job now,” said Nazar Khani Mousa, 32, who was working a bomb scene in central Baghdad last summer when two more explosions knocked him unconscious. His back, right hand and forearm were burned badly, while shrapnel pierced his forehead. He was unable to walk for three months.
Today, he’s back at work at the KarradafirehouseintheAl-Resafah district on the east bank of the Tigris River, risking his life for the equivalent of less than $90 a week.
This year alone, at least 30 Baghdad firemen have died in the line of duty and another 55 have been wounded, according to the Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq’s fire departments.
Others have been kidnapped by criminal groups or militiamen; still others find themselves in the crossfire of insurgent groups, U.S. and Iraqi security forces, and warring militias.
Most say they are motivated to carry on by a sense of duty and a need to support their families at a time when other jobs are hard to find.
“The people still count on us to do our work. If we don’t put out the fires, who will?” asked Mahdi Muhsin, a 31-year-old veteran firefighter who has been on the job since he was a teenager.
Mr.Mousa,forhispart,explained that he is the sole provider for his wife and his three daughters, who range in age from 1 month to 7 years. “This is only job I’ve ever worked,” he said.
If Baghdad’s firefighters are undeterred by the risks they face, that doesnotmeantheyarecasualabout security.
AttheKarradafirehouse,guards peer from sandbagged machinegun nests high above the row of red trucks in the garage below. Others patrol the front gate while, inside, most carry holstered sidearms.
“We’realwayspreparedforanattack,” said Laith Al-Sabbah, a 45year-oldcolonelwhohas21yearson the job. “The militias control the streets now.”
Col. Al-Sabbah and the other firefighters say their biggest problem on calls is trying to figure out who is who. Many of the militias have acquired police or Interior Ministry uniforms, so the firefighters seldom knowwhetheruniformed“officials” are there to help them or hurt them.
In August, men in police uniforms kidnapped and killed three firefighters from the Al-Shaab station in north Baghdad. And on Nov. 6, assailants in police uniforms snatched eight firefighters from the Sheik Omar station in north Baghdad during a government-imposed daylight curfew. So far, three men have been found dead; the other five are still missing.