BAGHDAD, Iraq — A little baksheesh can go a long way in Iraq.
At least, that is what U.S. military commanders hunting for Saddam Hussein and his loyalists are hoping.
American troops began this month handing out rewards (such “tips” are known in Arabic as baksheesh) to anyone who gives them credible information on the whereabouts of the fugitive former Iraqi leader or any of his elusive supporters.
With unemployment in Iraq around 70 percent, soldiers are turning to an incentive that has been successful since Mesopotamians settled on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers thousands of years ago.
“The hope is that if the word gets out there that we’re paying for information, we’ll get a lot more people coming forward,” said Capt. David Elsen, an intelligence officer with the 82nd Airborne Division.
So far, it seems to be working.
Although Iraqis who are seen collaborating with coalition forces are risking their lives, many are taking the chance if there is a payout.
For example, units are offering $100 for information on the location of a homemade explosive device. Attackers have planted bombs on the sides of roads and in the median, using remote detonators to set them off as American military convoys pass.
Someone who comes in with information on someone who has a large stock of weapons will get $200. Information leading to the capture of a person who planned to attack coalition forces will be awarded $500. That is more than what most Iraqis make in an entire year.
Of course, a tip that leads U.S. forces to Saddam will bring in a cool $25 million. The U.S. government has already paid the man who tipped coalition forces to the whereabouts of Saddam’s sons Odai and Qusai, who were killed by U.S. forces in a gunbattle July 22 in Mosul.
Military intelligence officers suspect that foreigners are in Iraq paying Iraqis anywhere from $50 to $500 to kill coalition forces. By offering cash for information, commanders are hoping to put those financing the attacks out of business. Essentially, they want to outbid the terrorists who are recruiting locals.
“We’re trying to counter that with the rewards for info,” Elsen said.
Money isn’t the only incentive to get Iraqis to cooperate.
A few soldiers have also found creative ways to get Iraqis to turn over weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Some troops have traded pistols and pinups of near-naked American models to get weapons.
Sergeant 1st Class David Santos, with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, said the money can only help soldiers gather information and prevent attacks.
In his company’s area, southwest Baghdad near Baghdad International Airport, soldiers used to get shot at almost every day. While the attacks continue, they are fewer than when the soldiers arrived in May.
Some residents are nervous about even being seen with U.S. soldiers because they fear reprisals from former Baath Party members. Translators who work for coalition troops for $10 day often wear disguises and cover their faces with cloth handkerchiefs.
“People are apprehensive about talking about Baathists,” Santos said.
Offering informants money might convince people to take the risk of coming forward, he said.