Diaa never thought that he would need someone to “guarantee” his respectability and even his identity in order to enter the city in which he was born. But that was exactly what he needed in order to get back into Nasiriya, his hometown and the capital of Iraq’s Dhi Qar province.
Diaa works as a television reporter and his work forced him to relocate to Baghdad with his wife. But every three months he returns to Nasiriya to visit family. “But then last time I tried to enter my own city I was told I needed a guarantor,” Diaa told NIQASH.
Despite his papers and evidence that he had indeed been born in Nasiriya, security officials at a checkpoint refused to let him in.
“They kept me waiting until 11:30 at night at the Thawra police station,” Diaa complains. “And they wouldn’t let me go until a friend of mine, who has a senior job in local government, came to the station after I called him. He took me into the city.”
Authorities in Dhi Qar announced the new guarantor system on March 16 – this meant that anyone coming into areas where they were not regularly resident needed to provide a person from within the area who would guarantee their identity. Although they gave conflicting statements as to how they were instituting this system, the why seemed clear: they were mostly worried about extremist groups coming into Dhi Qar, and particularly from Anbar via the Najaf desert and the city of Samawah.
The guarantor system is similar to one used by security forces guarding the borders of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is well known as the safest part of the whole country. But this is the first time the guarantor system has been used in the south of Iraq.
And it is in action: Eye witnesses report that anyone who doesn’t have proof of residency in Nasiriya or who cannot provide a local guarantor is not being allowed to enter the city.
For example, one family from Mosul was forced to spend the night outdoors near the city’s central prison. They were told that they would need a guarantor in order to spend the night within the city walls. “But we don’t know anyone here because we live 700 kilometres away,” explains the father of the prisoner this family had come to see. Because of the distances involved their original plan was to get to Nasiriya the day before they were due to visit their son in the prison. Then they would spend the night in a city hotel and leave again the next day after visiting hours were over. Instead they ended up spending the night in their car.
This family’s story is becoming more common. Thousands of Baghdad residents are originally from Nasiriya and they often visit their families; this decision will doubtless anger them.
Interestingly the local security forces are unclear about what is actually going on.
“This measure isn’t a guarantor system in the same way that Iraqi Kurdistan has a guarantor system,” Mazhar Shaher al-Azzawi, who commands the Rafidain Operations Command in the province, told NIQASH. “It is a simple precautionary measure that obliges anyone entering the area to provide a full set of information about themselves, where they have been and where they are going.”
“Dhi Qar has been threatened many times by armed groups and that is why we are doing this – to prevent further potential attacks,” says Jabar al-Moussawi, the head of the provincial authority’s security committee. “All we are doing is asking anyone who wants to come in here to give us information about themselves, to show their identity documents and tell us about their destination. We have also asked them to bring a person from within the province who can identify them and who can guarantee the amount of time they are going to spend in the area.”
The scheme also has its opponents. MP Mathar al-Janabi, who is a member of the Parliamentary committee on security and defence in Baghdad, says it shows Iraq’s Arabs have double standards. “We criticize the security measures taken by the Iraqi Kurdish. Yet here we are, applying the very same systems to our own towns,” al-Janabi told NIQASH.
Al-Janabi doesn’t think the idea of guarantors will spread any further. “It will make Iraqi citizens prisoners inside their own cities,” he argues.
Meanwhile Diaa, the television journalist, who found it hard to get back into Nasiriya to see his family, isn’t sure what he thinks of this scheme. He understands the reasoning but he’s not totally convinced. “Journalists, judges, professors and traders ought to be exempt from such measures,” he says. “But let’s wait and see what the results of such a scheme are.”