In the space of less than seven days, the affluent, central Baghdad neighbourhood of Karrada was hit by three car bombs. Many of Iraq’s political parties have their headquarters in this area and many of the country’s senior politicians live there too. It is also a neighbourhood that is known for peaceful integration of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Iraqi Kurds.
After the bombing, authorities shut down the main street in the neighbourhood for several days, before eventually reopening the street.
One of the store owners affected by the blasts, Bassem Ibrahim, began repairing his menswear shop almost immediately and he managed to re-open within two days. But his store was more than repaired – he had also installed security cameras that would film both the entrance to his store and the street opposite.
“With the cameras I’ll be able to see a potential car bomb before it explodes and the cameras will also pick up pictures of the car’s driver,” Ibrahim explained. “When terrorists see there is a camera they will be scared of being identified and my hope is that they abandon their plans.”
Ibrahim is one of many local store owners who are doing the same.
Part of the reason for the growing popularity of security cameras is the fact that clips they have filmed are often posted on YouTube after an incident. This has convinced many locals of the importance of security cameras. For example in one security camera film, the car’s colour is documented as well as its brand and its owner, who parked the car, pretended to go into a store and then fled the scene.
Stores selling this kind of equipment have multiplied in Baghdad and in particular in the Haraj market in the central city. The place bristles with shop fronts boasting the latest in surveillance equipment. Cameras range in price from US$50 to over US$1,500, depending on what kind of lens the camera has and what kind of quality footage it captures. There are also security cameras that can be connected to the Internet which allow store owners to watch their premises night and day, from wherever they are.
“Over the past few weeks there’s been a big increase in demand for these cameras,” says Kamal al-Alusi, who sells security cameras. “Previously only government institutions were buying these kinds of cameras, now we are seeing a lot of ordinary citizens purchasing them. Most of the buyers are shop keepers.”
One of the most popular security camera clips online is of a driver who parked his car in the Jadida neighbourhood, then very quickly walked away. Local shopkeeper Simon Jirjis saw the driver on a security camera he had installed outside his business.
“When I saw the driver walk away like that I tried to chase him but failed to catch him,” Jirjis told NIQASH. “I told all of the other store owners to stay away from the vehicle and we called the police. But they were late in arriving and the car exploded. Luckily there was only material damage.”
Jirjis remains upset about the incident. “I kept expecting someone from the police to come and ask for the pictures of this terrorist that my camera captured,” he says. “But they just ignored me, despite the fact that I told them I had this film.”
“Sometimes the video clips are really bad quality,” local police officer, Safa Mahmoud, explained to NIQASH. The license plates have not been captured and the perpetrators are not identifiable without a lot of forensics work.
Having said this, Mahmoud says the security camera footage is always valuable.
“Most of the car bombs exploding in Baghdad since the beginning of this year have not been carried out by suicide bombers,” Mahmoud explains. “The attackers usually park their cars in the street and then detonate them remotely. And the cameras give us important evidence – they show that the attackers will dress nicely, in suits, so that people won’t guess what they are doing there.”
Even the local authorities are fans of the increase in security cameras in the city. “They are important and we encourage people to buy and install them,” says Mohammed al-Rubaei, a member of Baghdad’s provincial council. “In fact we have a project in the pipeline that is going to ask all local shopkeepers to install security cameras. The council itself is also intending to install more than 10,000 surveillance cameras on the streets – this is also done in many European cities.”
“Surveillance cameras have many benefits,” retired colonel and security expert, Ammar al-Sharifi, told NIQASH. “Installing one security camera on a street is more effective than a full checkpoint with five members of the security forces because the men get tired and may miss something. Checkpoints can also cause traffic problems. Security cameras don’t get tired and they can be used to organize traffic too,” he notes optimistically.