Real Iraqi papers… or are they?
For many years, I’ve known this guy who makes counterfeit documents. He’s not the only one in Iraq doing it, but he’s one of the best. He can fake anything from a passport to a visa. When my friends and I were in the Iraqi army and wanted out, he forged papers for all of us to get on sick leave. He is still in operation in the war zone, so let’s just call him “W” for now. I called him on the phone recently from Damascus, where I am a refugee from the war. Vice: Hello W! W: Hi Hayder. I miss you, man. I heard you are in Damascus now. For the time being, but the Syrian government just told us we have 30 days to get out of here. Why are you still in Baghdad? Hey, I never leave Baghdad—and definitely not now. Why? It’s the most dangerous place in the world. Sure, but this is the place for me to make a living. People here need me and I need their money. What are you doing most often now? People want to get the hell out of Iraq, but they don’t have the proper documents. So I make these papers for people. I can’t explain it more right now. We are on the phone, dude. [laughs] Please, W. You must answer me. Don’t laugh, just answer. You make me lose my mind, motherfucker. You are a motherfucker too! OK, fine, ask me whatever. But please, short questions. Who taught you to be a counterfeiter? It was a long time ago, during the war between Iran and Iraq. Most Iraqis were in the army, and they wanted to be put on sick leave to get out. I met a guy named Hamed who taught me the basics, but it’s something I learned by myself, too. I would spend hours just figuring how to make a realistic visa. Day by day, I am getting better. How old are you? Thirty-eight. I was born in Sadr City, so you know that my neighborhood was doing anything it could to go against Saddam. I didn’t always fake documents for the money. Many times I did it for free, just to help people fuck Saddam. What did you study when you went to school? I graduated from a fine arts college. I studied to be a painter. But it’s funny because it was my job as a counterfeiter that made me like to paint. Forging documents made me want to go to fine arts college. What’s the hardest forgery you ever did? Well, under Saddam many Iraqis left Iraq—especially after 1990 when we were put under sanctions. One day, a guy came to me and he told me his brother lived in some Arab country. He went there just to work to help his family back here in Iraq, but then he got in really big trouble. He stabbed someone in the stomach, and he was being called back to Iraq to go to jail in Abu Ghraib. So I forged him some papers that led him back to his family instead of to jail. You saved his life. I knew you were really smart, but not like that. What about passports—are they hard? I don’t actually fake a passport from scratch. I buy real ones from people who work at the passport office, and then I modify them for each customer. One day, some guy came to me with a foreign passport he had found. I put his picture in it and inscribed it with dates to leave Iraq. How much do you charge for passports? Sometimes I take $500 and sometimes $2,000. It depends on the person, what he can afford, and what he wants. And for visas? Those are really difficult, so I charge anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000. I heard you fake marriage certificates too. What do people do with those? It’s tough here if you have a girlfriend and you don’t have a special place to take her and make love. So people come to me to fake this paper that says they are husband and wife and then they can go to a hotel to get a room to have sex in. You know, we live in the Middle East, so we have problems with anything sexual. But I don’t mind. These hang-ups make money for me. HAYDER DAFFAR