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Baghdad Traffic at a Standstill

Military checkpoints and road closures bring transport deadlock.
By Ali Marzook
The traffic in Iraq’s capital is in a state of gridlock. New security checkpoints, an increased number of cars, and road closures on 80 per cent of the city’s streets mean that the traffic is regularly completely stationary, and drives that used to take 15 minutes can now take up to an hour



The extra checkpoints, which require drivers to stop and show their ID, have sprung up as a result of “Operation Lightning”, a joint initiative by American and Iraqi security forces to crack down on the insurgency.



This comes at a time when the volume of traffic on the streets has never been higher. The number of vehicles in Baghdad has more than doubled since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and is now in excess of a million.



The chaos has been added to by exasperated drivers stopping on intersections, parking their cars in the middle of the road and disobeying basic traffic rules. Frustrated by slow progress, some people have started to abandon their cars and walk to their destination, which is often faster than driving.



Baghdad road-users also have to contend with US military convoys, which force vehicles to stop or slow down. Standing still in traffic in Iraq can even mean death, since it is impossible to escape from the roadside car-bombs used by militants.



In the al-Ameriya area, taxi driver Waleed Khalid said he recently tried to rescue a man who was wounded when he was caught in crossfire between Americans forces and local insurgents. But because roads were closed, there were big delays in getting him to hospital - just two kilometers away - where he died.



In the poor district of al-Amel, Omar Naji was recently taking his 66-year-old neighbour Ahmed Riyadh to hospital after he suffered a heart attack. But because Iraqi national guardsmen had blocked off nearby roads to search for weapons, he nearly didn’t make it on time.



“The emergency room doctor told us that if we had arrived five minutes later, my neighbour would have died,” said Naji.



In the up-market al-Mansoor area, one resident said his son, who had suffered an electric shock, died because heavy traffic led to delays him receiving life-saving treatment. “My son could have been saved if things were right and normal,” he said.



Abdullah Murad Ghani, director general of the transportation board, a municipal body, said his office would form a committee with the traffic police and the ministry of transportation to try to solve the traffic problems.



“In the coming days, there will be big changes in the traffic issue,” he said.



But traffic police colonel Kheder Abbas said that the difficulties were due to poor coordination between the transport police and the transportation board. For its part, the board says it has no control over the checkpoints and road closures, which are implemented by the American and Iraqi security forces.



“The board of transportation is completely absent,” he said. “This makes the chaos worse.”



However, the situation could improve of its on accord. Car sales have begun a sudden decline. A ban on buying vehicles manufactured before 2000 - because authorities fear such models are favoured by suicide bombers - has significantly slowed purchases.



Ali Marzook and Ali al-Nawas are IWPR trainees in Baghdad.



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