A recent security camera video that showed a young Basra taxi driver being murdered has caused an outcry in the southern Iraqi city. The murderer is seen on camera pointing a gun at the 22-year-old taxi driver, Ali Kathem, and then shooting him as he tries to escape. After the security camera video was posted online, many locals were moved by the plight of Kathem’s wife, who was pregnant with the couple’s first baby, and a sit-in was organized in front of the offices of the provincial government during which protestors called for better security, and justice for the murdered driver.
Although Basra, with its population of close to 4 million, has oil and ports, and should by rights be one of Iraq’s most economically prosperous towns, there is still an overwhelming amount of poverty here, and therefore more crime. It is estimated that over a third of Basra’s citizens live in poverty.
So this incident is not the first to be recorded on a closed circuit security camera. Given the authorities’ lack of ability to do anything about crime in the city, many locals are deciding that their best chance of preventing crime and capturing criminals is by installing a security camera.
“The footage from these cameras has helped to identify criminals,” says Nabil Kathem, who owns a business in the Ashar commercial district that sells and installs security cameras. “Which has made people more aware of how useful these cameras could be.”
Kathem says that demand for his wares has been rising since last year when there was a series of armed robberies in private homes, as well as kidnappings. There have also been more attacks on taxi drivers.
In fact, Kathem says, a lot of the residential streets of Basra are now monitored almost along their whole length by privately owned security cameras. Before these kinds of cameras were only ever installed in stores or in government buildings.
The security cameras are also more popular because of their prices, suggests Salam Abdul Hussein, an engineer working for a Basra firm that specializes in security fit outs. They start at US$700 and go as high as US$2,000. The most expensive cameras are able to identify faces in the dark and pinpoint license plates at a distance.
“The security forces often depend on the footage from these cameras,” a source at the Basra police command centre told NIQASH anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. “Perpetrators are often arrested based on this video evidence. For example, in the recent murder of a taxi driver [not Ali Kathem] footage from security cameras meant that the murderer was arrested just one day after the crime.”
Most of the houses belonging to officials or to businessmen in Basra now have security cameras installed, similar to those one normally finds in government buildings, says Majid Hamid, a local businessman. The security situation is deteriorating and one cannot rely on security guards, he notes.
Another local merchant, Ahmad Abdul Karim, says he feels much safer and he feels assured that his family is safe too, after installing a network of security cameras in his home. He believes that criminal gangs avoid the houses with cameras.
“And the modern technology means we can actually monitor the security cameras from our mobile phones, wherever we are,” he boasts.
But it is not just the well-off in Basra who are installing security cameras. Local teacher Sijad Aqil installed cameras at his house three months ago, after his brother’s house was robbed.
“The value of what was stolen was around IQD35 million (around US$27,000) but the cost of installing the cameras is only about US$800,” Aqil says. “This is a very reasonable price compared to what someone can lose if the cameras are not installed.”
The local government has also been trying to establish a project using security cameras – but this was suggested several years ago and still hasn’t been activated.
“The local government has received information about the security cameras on local roads and will soon activate a networked surveillance camera project on the roads and in public areas,” explains Jabbar al-Saadi, a member of the provincial council’s security council.