Criminals In Uniform: Baghdad's Dodgy, Booming Business in Military Clothing
Thanks to the current security crisis, there are so many Iraqis now playing a military role in Iraq that it is hard to know who is part of an official government body and therefore has some authority, and who isn't. Making this even more difficult is the fact that military uniforms have become more ubiquitous than ever.
Ever since the extremist group known as the Islamic State sparked a nationwide security crisis and the mobilisation of thousands of volunteer fighters, the uniform sales business has been booming. And sales are largely unregulated.
Military uniforms are something of a fashion and Iraqis will often wear them on special occasions, whether they're in a military unit or not.
But now locals say criminals are using the easily available military clothing as a kind of disguise, that allows them to commit crimes with impunity. Any gang can roam the city streets as though they were a military force, Baghdad locals complain, and over the past few months kidnapping and robbery by such gangs has increased. It is impossible to tell who is who anymore, they say.
A military uniform, often made in China, costs around IQD50,000 (around US$44). But usually the quality of the cloth isn't very high and the uniform discolours and fades after time on duty out in the harsh Iraqi sun. This is why real soldiers and members of government-approved militias also buy equipment from the stores that sell uniforms and other security equipment. But ordinary people can also easily buy this type of clothing.
There are a lot of small shops in central Baghdad, near the headquarters of the country's Ministry of the Interior, selling military uniforms and other gear. After the highest Shiite Muslim religious authorities in the country called upon Iraqis to defend the country against the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group last year, the number of these shops grew. And every day government officials go past the stores.