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18 Vehicles Victimized in Surge of Highway Robbery in Iraq

At least 18 vehicles were robbed at gunpoint on the main highway west of Baghdad Monday morning, in a new crime surge on the dangerous road. Among those robbed was VOA Correspondent Dale Gavlak.

There have been robberies on the road west of Baghdad before, mainly between the volatile towns of Fallujah and Ramadi. But reporters say 18 in a two-hour period is unusual.

The convoys of foreign journalists and Arab business executives tend to leave Baghdad early, heading for the Jordan border, and Monday's incidents happened just after dawn. VOA's Dale Gavlak was in a two-car convoy when the bandits struck, driving BMW sedans and wearing red and white Arab headscarves over their faces.

"Suddenly, we saw the car that we were traveling with pull over to the side. And we saw another car pull alongside, and we saw people in that car with AK-47 rifles pointing at the passengers. And so, my driver sped. He didn't realize, though, that there was someone following him who came alongside, and they had AK-47s pointed at us as well. So we had to pull over," Ms. Gavlak said.

The thieves ordered the driver and another man out of the car, and threatened to steal the vehicle. "They beat on the driver and the passenger in the front seat, who was a man, and then they opened the door and they found me. I knew that they wanted some money, and I purposely had carried some money just in the event something might happen, because I knew they would never believe I wouldn't have any money to give them," she explained.

Correspondent Gavlak handed over her money. The thieves grabbed a flak jacket that was in the car, and sped away.

Ms. Gavlak reports it was a scary experience, but no one was seriously injured, and they continued their drive to Jordan.

Along the way, they met some Iraqi policemen, who said they were aware of the crime spree, but could do nothing about it. The convoy also met up with some American soldiers, who were trying to find out what had happened. The U.S. Army has been trying to secure the road through the volatile region, but said it does not have enough soldiers and vehicles to make the entire road safe all the time.

As the convoy encountered other vehicles at rest stops, and at the Jordanian border-crossing, Dale Gavlak realized at least 18 cars had been robbed that morning. Among the victims were columnist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, and an Iraqi businessman, who said he lost $10,000 to the bandits.