Soldiers in Iraq cracking down on illegal traders and their suppliers
CONVOY SUPPORT CENTER SCANIA, Iraq — The big smiles don’t fool soldiers on perimeter security outside Camp Scania, a major convoy stopping point 150 miles south of Baghdad.
The soldiers say the smiling Iraqi children lingering outside the concertina wire separating them from convoy trucks might have hashish, whiskey or the prescription drug Viagra stashed in the shrubs as they wait for a possible sale.
“Whenever there are trucks along the wire, they’ll be working,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey King, part of the perimeter security force.
“You can have kids from, like, 4 years to 30-year-old men up on the wire.”
The sales and any contact with the makeshift wire fence by someone outside it are prohibited, and security details take the problem seriously.
They want to make sure the trickle of vendors does not become a flood of traders that could include potential terrorists.
As a result, at least every few days someone is caught selling to convoy drivers on the base side of the fence, King said.
“We pop them all the time,” said Lt. Col. James B. Sayers, commander of the 1st Battalion, 185th Armor Regiment of the California National Guard and the acting camp commander.
While any contact along the fence line is a concern, security officials believe the risk to U.S. forces, living a distance from the convoy waiting areas, is minimal. Most of the traders are poor locals from nearby homes.
“It’s common all over Iraq,” Sayers said. “These are petty criminals. They’re not real bad people, [they’re] just trying to make a buck.”
Though few in number, they are persistent.
“You can arrest one and come back five minutes later and there will be more out there,” King said.
Traders are turned over to the Iraqi police and then imprisoned briefly and fined. Their goods are taken away.
“You’d think that would be an incentive not to do this stuff,” Sayers adds.
To make sure there’s no ambiguity, large red signs in English and Arabic warn: “No Trading with Locals” at the base gates and the same message is spray-painted on concrete barriers.
Security is the key issue, but, Sayers adds, having drunk or stoned convoy drivers endangers soldiers who accompany them on the road.
Truck drivers caught buying goods have also been arrested and are turned over to their companies, who generally dismiss them, Sayers said.
The traders have an interesting array of goods, soldiers say, from the outright illegal, such as hashish, to the surprising, such as Viagra.
The most common is cigarettes, followed by anything from chickens to decorative knives.
Many of the traders are familiar faces. Soldiers know one so well he waves when he sees them in town and has started providing some intelligence to police.
Patrols have also arrested suppliers who provide the goods to the traders. Soldiers say a recent bust netted several trucks of Viagra.