Counter Trafficking in Iraq and Kurdistan (Part 1)

Counter Trafficking in Iraq and Kurdistan (Part 1)

Over an end-of-Ramadan Iftar feast at Col. Dara’s home, we engaged in a candid discussion about fighting trafficking in Kurdistan. 

“Some will understand it, and some will not,” explained Dara. “This is the best next step for training here in Kurdistan.” 

Dara Farouk Najar is the Director of the Combating Organized Crimes Directorate, Ministry of Interior, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In this role, he also oversees the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Task Force in the KRG of Northern Iraq. His team is remarkable. 

The commander, his deputy and many others on the task force deeply understand the nuances and complexities of trafficking and prostitution. 

Layering these crimes with the difficult dynamics of tribalism, a historical practice of honor killings, and surviving decades of war and insecurity make them exceptionally complicated. But with all these obstacles, Dara is not backing down. 

He is leading the charge to identify women and children being abused, interrupting the cycle of violence and restoring survivors so they may thrive once again.

With his support, we’ve mounted a new offensive and begun a series of counter-trafficking training events across the KRG. 

The goal of our training is to educate participants about trafficking, but we really want to get down to the tactical level and help local police leverage the tools and tactics they have on hand to identify traffickers and bring them to justice

Our workshop training consists of some classroom instruction, including practical exercises. Then we put those new skills to work by conducting a culmination in the city in which participants go through a full operation. 

The full operation starts with helping students identify indicators found on the internet and social media utilizing Open Source Intelligence Techniques (OSINT). The operation concludes with multiple stings leading to a trafficker and three victims.

Heading up this training for us is Det. Joe Scaramucci from the McLennan County Sheriff’s office in central Texas. Joe is officially ATP’s International Law Enforcement Liaison because the term sounds official, but he is much more than that. 

He is a good friend to our team and guides much of how we do what we do. This is Joe’s second trip to Iraq with us, and we are planning to come back in a few more months. He’s also on deck to travel to Cambodia with us, and he is an integral part of our Skull Games Weekends.

There is no cop that I know of who has a deeper understanding of this crime and a better track record of helping victims find freedom and arresting predators than Joe. We highly value his ability to speak cop-to-cop and discuss the spirit of the law as well as the nuances of the written laws themselves.

The counter-trafficking laws in Iraq and Kurdistan are, in many ways, better than what we have in the United States. The knowledge of these laws and understanding how to leverage them to protect women and arrest traffickers still needs to be better disseminated, but our mission is to take the existing laws and bring them to the street.

One of the first ways to do this is to get all the right people around the table at one time. This is what Col. Dara meant by saying “This is the best next step for training here in Kurdistan.” 

Dara invited us to the KRG Ministry of Interior (MoI) headquarters building in the city of Erbil and called in the disparate players needed to build a comprehensive counter trafficking offense. 

The participants who came from across Kurdistan included police officers specializing in organized crime as well as trafficking, Asayish (FBI equivalent), Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Health, visa department, money laundering, a few other specialties and a small number of women. 

Over the past few years, with ara’s tireless work, many perceptions have been changed in Kurdistan. In particular, there has been a seismic shift to stop viewing victims as offenders. Instead, authorities are adopting a victim-centered and human rights-based approach to trafficking investigations. 

Just like everywhere else, even with progress, there are many barriers that need to be overcome when discussing trafficking. Just like everywhere else, we field the statements like:

“This doesn’t happen here,” and we invariably answer, “Yes, it does.”

“If the women don’t want to be prostitutes, then why don’t they come to the police?” and we invariably answer, “Because they are trapped, threatened, and feel helpless?”

“Buying sex isn’t illegal here,” and we invariably answer, “No, it is illegal here.”

Now, that last comment may surprise you, but it shouldn’t. How many people in the world, including America, think that prostitution in Las Vegas is legal? It’s not. But comments like this lend terrific insight into which laws are being enforced and which are not. Unenforced laws lead to perceptions that are simply inaccurate.

Whenever we discuss trafficking in the Middle East, the participants talk about the shame that comes with drinking, doing drugs and promiscuity. 

They are under the perception that American girls don’t feel shame for drinking, doing drugs and being promiscuous — but they do. Shame is a critical ingredient pimps and traffickers use to manipulate their victims.

It is always a little frustrating to have to explain to people around the world that America is still a country that values family and stands by the morals that God has embedded in us. 

Loud progressives and consumer culture drown out those who try to live by Yeshua’s teachings, and overshadow the quiet heroes, like Det. Joe and Col. Dara, who “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) 


Editor’s Note: In Part II of this report, we will dig deeper into prostitution and trafficking in Kurdistan.


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