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SUV: The Most Dangerous Vehicle In Iraq

In almost every deadly attack on foreign civilians, the victims have been in Sport Utility Vehicles, almost invariably white: the occupation car of choice.
Why an SUV is now the most dangerous vehicle in Iraq

Patrick Graham in Baghdad
Sunday April 4, 2004
The Observer

It has become clear in the past few years that four-wheel-drive SUVs are some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road. Nowhere is this more true than in Iraq.

In almost every deadly attack on foreign civilians, the victims have been in Sport Utility Vehicles, almost invariably white: the occupation car of choice.

The burning wreckage in Falluja last week was unmistakable. The charred bodies of the four Americans were scattered around two white SUVs. The men - Scott Helvenston, from Florida, a producer of extreme fitness videos; Jerry Zovko from Ohio; Wesley Batalona, 48, from Hawaii; and wrestling coach Michael Teague, 38, from Tennessee - were former US special forces members now working for Blackwater, a private security firm that protects Paul Bremer, the coalition's administrator.

Falluja is a centre of the anti-American resistance, where even the police don't support the Americans. US soldiers don't drive through Falluja much. When they do, they have helicopter back-up and heavy armour.

'Almost every foreigner who has been killed here is an idiot,' said one ex-Navy SEAL. Soldiers often show little sympathy for those who fail to follow the right procedure.

He began listing their mistakes. To start with, they were in Falluja, in an SUV. Next, he guessed they had gone through the city before and had met no problems, but were seen leaving an American base - a routine can kill you. Later, they were followed.

'People don't realise that this is war,' he said.

But last week's horrific scenes in Falluja give the wrong impression. Iraq is, in fact, a lot safer than it was last summer.

There is less violence now but it is better organised, more methodical. Especially in the capital. You can tell a lot about the security situation in Baghdad by listening to the city. Last summer, there was almost constant gunfire. The city was in chaos and murders and robbery were common.

Today, there are police on the streets and it is much safer. The problem is that, while the police presence reduces some kinds of crime, there is nobody in control of the city. For a careful criminal, there are no consequences.

The other day, we drove by a café in which gangsters hang out. If someone wants to kill you, this is where they can go. It costs $100 to have someone shot. The killers know they will never be caught.

For all the media reports about foreign deaths, life is far more dangerous for Iraqis, especially Iraqis who work for foreigners. And while three journalists have been killed in the past month, they have all been killed by the American army. And they were Arab or Iraqi.

This is what Iraqis complain about when they say ' maku amin ', no security. If you anger somebody, he can kill you with impunity.

A foreign newspaper bureau here recently tried to fire one of its guards for sleeping on the job. A driver quietly explained that, if the guard were fired, he would hire someone to take revenge. The guard stayed.

If you can't threaten someone with a vendetta, then you have very little leverage in negotiations. As a result, the tribeless Christian community has been one of the worst hit by kidnappers. In Baghdad, we listen to bombs exploding rather than chaotic gunfire.

One woke us up last week, rattling the windows, blowing in the curtains. Five Iraqis were killed. What were they driving? An SUV.

ˇ Two attacks on Iraqi police south of Baghdad yesterday left four dead, bringing to 350 the number of policemen killed by shooting and suicide bombings in the past year.

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