Iraq's interior ministry announced this week a series of new security measures designed to prevent al-Qaeda and other armed groups from purchasing imported used cars and using them as car bombs.
Recent intelligence reports obtained by security forces indicated that al-Qaeda had recruited individuals who would supply imported used cars from local markets and then sell them to the organisation, which then rigged them with explosives to attack civilians and security targets, officials said.
"The ministry was able to put strict measures in place to prevent al-Qaeda from getting used cars that terrorist cells inside and outside [the country] have obtained," said Col. Hikmat Mahmoud al-Masary, the ministry's media director.
The new measures were adopted in collaboration with the customs police, the Board of Supreme Audit, and the Planning Ministry's imports committee, he said.
Al-Masary said the measures restrict vehicle imports to businesses that have been involved solely in the import sector for over five years. The owner's name and business address will be registered so owners are questioned over any car they imported that is later found in a terrorist's possession.
The new measures require these companies to register imported cars with the country's traffic departments using the names of Iraqi citizens whose identities can be verified by identification cards and passports, he said.
Previous regulations required that the imported cars be allowed into the country and then offered for sale at private car dealerships, to be followed by a registration period of 40 days.
"This gave terrorists a chance to use those cars without registration plates, leaving the security services unable to identify the car's number or its owner," al-Masary said.
He described the new measures as "a new blow to one of the country's terrorism-funding sources".
Iraqi police in Anbar province on June 27th arrested an individual in Fallujah they described as a "prominent financier" who was supplying al-Qaeda with cars to be rigged with explosives.
"The security forces arrested the man who was responsible for supplying al-Qaeda with cars he imported at very low prices from used car markets in Jordan," said Brig. Gen. Mohammad Elaiwy, the Fallujah police commander. "The supplier is known as Haithem Ibrahim, who was caught red-handed as he was delivering three cars without registration plates to armed insurgents in Fallujah."
Maj. Gen. Adel Dahham, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told mawtani.com, "70% of car bombs detonated in Iraq in the past three months did not have registration plates, numbers or identifiable data."
"The other booby-trapped cars were either stolen from their owners by terrorists, or bought from repair shops in extremely run-down states, and then rigged with explosives and detonated afterwards," he said.
"The interior ministry issued new guidelines that require owners of repair garages and auto dealers to sign an official sale contract in court that includes the buyer's address and other relevant data," Dahham added.
The ministry also urged citizens to inform the police within six hours after a car is stolen so its description can be publicised and police can begin a search for it as soon as possible.
"Border administration and security forces put 13 companies involved in importing used cars on a black list because of suspicions about their commercial activities, and we are still checking up on their backgrounds," said Khalid Dahham, deputy director of the Waleed border checkpoint with Jordan.
"A specialised German company is helping the Iraqi customs commission build an online database that would link all the border entry points and provide information on all cars imported into Iraq," he said.
Dahham said governments of neighbouring countries "have shown great co-operation with Iraq, and they begun checking the names of car buyers and their nationalities before the cars are delivered to Iraq".
Auto dealers welcomed the announcement of the new purchase requirements.
"We try to avoid selling a car to anyone we are suspicious of or someone we suspect might be a member of al-Qaeda, judging by his appearance or manner of speech," said Hassan Suhail al-Ghrairi, owner of Dubai Cars in the Bayya district. "There are times when we are unable to identify a fraudulent buyer, and a few days later we learn that the car we sold was loaded with explosives and used in a bombing."
"We feel very sad when that happens, and that is why we have become very careful now," he said.