FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Day in the Life of Col. Abu Mohammed

by PATRICK COCKBURN

In Baghdad.

It is probably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Colonel Abu Mohammed is the policeman in charge of defusing unexploded bombs in Baghdad, where the sound of explosions is so common that, unless the blast is very close, people no longer come to their doors to check what has blown up.

“I used to have 11 experts in defusing bombs here but now I am almost the only one because it is so dangerous,” says the colonel, a surprisingly cheerful bald man in his early fifties.

“Some of the others are dead or injured or were threatened into resigning.”

One officer had just had his ground-floor apartment demolished by an explosion. Just as we were starting to interview Col Mohammed (his name has been changed to protect his identity), an elderly man in white robes entered the room. He said in an agitated voice that somebody had just threatened to kill his son, another police officer, so he would no longer be coming to work.

The colonel explained that he handled all sorts of bombs, particularly roadside bombs and unexploded suicide bombs.

Some of the devices are bizarre. A few months ago a suicide bomber had tried to ram a vehicle carrying two torpedoes, a sea-mine and assorted other explosives through the gates of the main police headquarters in Amariyah. He had hit a gatepost and the bomb never went off.

The colonel defused it.

“Under the old regime we only did a hundredth of the work we do today,” he said. “But in May of last year, after the fall of Saddam, I had to defuse a bomb in a case left near the Oil Ministry. It consisted of two 155mm shells, a battery and a remote control to detonate it.”

The Oil Ministry bomb was the first of many.

Often the same policeman has to defuse three or four bombs, often with anti-handling devices, in different parts of Baghdad in the space of a few hours. Most bombs are similar in pattern, although the sophistication of the equipment differs.

As the colonel explained how to build and dismantle a bomb, his desk was soon covered in different types of batteries, clocks and remote controls. He twirled the lock on a safe and took out silver-coloured blasting caps. Two large metal tubs, which I had seen in a corner of his office and had thought contained paint, turned out to be filled with Russian-made plastic explosives.

Many of the bombs are very large. Last year a suicide bomber, reportedly a Yemeni, was shot when he tried to ram a vehicle into al-Jadidah police station in Baghdad. Col Mohammed, who defused the bomb, found that it consisted of three artillery shells and 1.5 tons of explosives.

It is easy to understand why so many of the surviving officers in the bomb squad have left the police force or transferred to other departments. It is not a well-paid job. The colonel says he makes about $370 (lbs203) a month. Until recently his men had no body armour to protect them from the blast. Col Mohammed said: “We asked the Americans for robots so we don’t have to risk our lives but we haven’t received any.”

At the entrance to the police station a police officer called Saleh Mehdi, 25, appeared and shook hands with his left hand. He explained that his right arm was blown off by a bomb on 25 December last year.

He said: “First we got a call saying there was a roadside bomb in Palestine Street. I went there and defused it. Then there was another found three kilometres away and a third behind the Turkish embassy. “Then we had to go back to Palestine Street because two more bombs had been discovered there.”

Mr Mehdi was standing a yard away from one of the bombs when it blew up. Probably somebody was watching as he got near and pressed a button on a remote control, which detonated it. His right arm was torn off and his body peppered with shrapnel. He said: “I had a mechanical arm fitted but it did not work. I was sent to Oman to get an electronic arm but it has not arrived.” He received no compensation.

The roadside bomb and the suicide bomb are the chosen instruments of those trying to end the occupation. It is a measure of the failure of the American military and civilian authorities in Iraq that the Iraqi police who deal with many of the bombs in Baghdad are so ill-equipped.

As we left Col Mohammed’s office, he saw another officer who had just transferred out of the bomb squad. “Well at least shake hands with me to say goodbye,” said the colonel.

“No, I won’t even shake hands,” replied the officer. “You might persuade me to join your squad again.”

More articles by:
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 20016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
Andrew Levine
Why Not Hillary?
Paul Street
Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé
Chris Floyd
Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers
Eric Mann
How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of LA Schools
Jason Hirthler
The West’s Needless Aggression
Dan Arel
Why Hillary Clinton’s Camp Should Be Scared
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Flunks Decontamination
David Rosen
The Privatization of the Public Sphere
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Civil Rights Hypocrisy
Pete Dolack
We Can Dream, or We Can Organize
Chris Gilbert
Corruption in Latin American Governments
Dan Kovalik
Colombia: the Displaced & Invisible Nation
Jeffrey St. Clair
Fat Man Earrings: a Nuclear Parable
Medea Benjamin
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail