Baghdad: After three recent bombings carried out by women who appeared to be either paupers or mentally disabled, Iraqi authorities have announced plans to round up beggars, the homeless and the mentally ill and get them off the streets, a move they say will make Baghdad safer.
"These kinds of people belong in either social welfare institutes or hospitals," says Abdul Kareem Khalaf, spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry.
In addition, those pretending to be down on their luck, either to dupe people into giving them handouts or to disguise evil intentions, will face arrest and prosecution, says Khalaf.
Iraqi law forbids begging, but police have been too busy dealing with attacks and other war-related crimes to enforce anti-begging legislation, said Tariq Harb, a prominent Baghdad attorney.
With US and Iraqi officials accusing insurgents of recruiting juveniles and women, Harb and Khalaf say it makes sense to start cracking down.
But enforcing the law will be difficult. Beggars and street people are part of life here, and their numbers have grown dramatically since the war.
In addition, the Quran encourages people to help the needy, and Iraqis see nothing wrong with giving money to people who ask for it. In fact, beggars here often go door to door in residential neighbourhoods seeking handouts. Others walk the streets hitting up people in passing cars when traffic slows.
One problem for Iraqis is figuring out who is genuinely needy and who is merely stuffing already fattened pockets. "I know many men who sit in cheap motels smoking waterpipes ... while their wives and kids roam in the streets of Baghdad begging for money," Harb said.
Skeptics question whether Baghdad has the facilities to care for throngs of mentally ill and homeless people. They also say Iraq's leaders have a history of targeting street beggars while tolerating official begging in the form of bribe-taking and other means.