Fraz­zled Iraqi fire­fight­ers bear the heat of ter­ror­ists’ tac­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By James Palmer

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.

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