Baghdad Traffic Woes

November 15, 2008


By Aws Qusay


I’ve long since told my family to stop phoning me in a panic
every evening when they don’t know where I am.


I’m not dead, I’m in traffic.


I live just 15 km from the Reuters office in Baghdad. But
nowadays, with the Iraqi capital divided into countless
mini-cities by concrete slabs and roadblocks, my commute across
town usually takes two and a half hours, sometimes three.
Traffic barely moves at all.


“The entire distance we just crossed, the gear shift was in
first gear,” the minibus driver told me the other day.


Before 2003 we didn’t have traffic jams in Baghdad, except
on a few major routes. Today, the entire city is choked. Partly
it is because of the checkpoints, concrete slabs and razor wire
roadblocks that snarl the streets. Partly it is because of the
convoys of military vehicles or 4×4’s of VIP’s bristling with
gunmen who shove everyone else to the side. Sometimes there’s a
bomb that shuts part of the city down. Mostly, the traffic is
just a result of too many cars and not enough road.


So, I spend the equivalent of about five full days a month
in traffic, listening to music on my headphones as the bus
crawls past checkpoint after checkpoint. A friend pointed out
that my daily commute across town each way takes about as long
as flying to Cairo.


When I can, I walk instead. It’s faster, and it can be nice
to listen to music and cross the Tigris River at sunset.


But usually, after a day’s work, I find myself on the


The old and tired find the jam a good chance to take a
snooze. Nervous people talk about their suffering. One man
lights up his cigarette, choking the rest of us with the smoke,
which just adds to the smoke from the cars outside the window.


I grumble to myself about him: does he think smoking his cigarette
is a way to indulge in “freedom and democracy”? And I wait
to get home.


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