/ 26 October 2009

From black magic to CSI, science aims to beat Iraq crime

While still seen as a form of “black magic” by many crime-fighters, Iraqi scientists are honing their skills in analysing data from the scene to curb attacks such as the massive bombings in Baghdad.

The United States military said it provided forensics personnel to assist Iraqi investigators after Sunday’s attacks, which turned central Baghdad into a bloodbath that killed about 100 people.

“We have to tell investigators and judges about how collecting and finding biological evidence is important,” said Raed Adnan, in charge of the DNA section at the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) unit in Baghdad.

“I also will be happy when the judges and investigators trust the biological evidence, because nobody has the same genetic print. But they’re not convinced, they say it’s black magic,” said Adnan, a 28-year-old biologist.

The laboratories at a new CSI training section of Baghdad’s police academy is equipped with cutting edge technology to examine DNA, fingerprints, explosives, firearms and forged money.

The aim is to build up a national data bank of DNA, based on blood, saliva, hair and other samples.

He explained that CSI teams collect biological evidence at crime scenes and send them to the laboratory. “It can be blood, hair, saliva, semen. Even urine contains DNA,” said Adnan.

Lieutenant Ali Hassan, meanwhile, said his specialised CSI section can analyse all types of explosives.

“We are not investigators, we just analyse what we receive. It’s up to the police and the justice system to try to link what we find with the suspects and convict them,” he said.

Hassan said it would take another four or five years for Iraqi scientists to develop the know-how to trace the country of origin of explosives used in the violence which has ravaged the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Set up in 2006, Iraq’s fledgling CSI unit, modelled on US expertise and backed up by American trainers, has 4 500 students working out of five police scientific centres around the country.

Generally after major attacks, the rescue services are followed up by police who hurry to clean the site and restore a semblance of normal life — contaminating evidence in the process.

But on Monday, several roads in central Baghdad remained closed, with a heavy security presence on the streets and many commuters being forced to walk part of the way to work.

Traffic was gridlocked outside a perimeter established around the bomb sites near the justice ministry and the Baghdad provincial government offices, with few cars allowed in.

US army Captain Michael Triglia, an FBI investigator who has supervised training and the supply of the forensics laboratories, said: “The goal is to move from a confession-based evidence to a scientific one.”

He admitted it was “a huge job” to deliver the equipment and supply the training needed in Iraq.

“We do not aim to create a new police but to improve their capability and to expand the discipline in the forensic field… Our aim is to move to that point and to make sure that the judges know how important it is,” he said.

Triglia said the target was to have Iraq’s CSI capabilities fully operational by the summer of 2011, ahead of the scheduled full withdrawal of US troops from the country by the end of that year. — AFP