Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

US Dump Trove for Some, Eyesore for Others

Opportunists and paupers comb coalition rubbish dump as appalled local residents look on.
By Mohamed Fawzi

Quite early one morning, some boys are seen rummaging through a heap of old papers, cans of expired food, slick-back magazines, the occasional used condom and other assorted rubbish.

One boy cheers upon unearthing a pair of shoes, and the others rush over to inspect his find. Another boy holds aloft a copy of Playboy magazine, a prize that will earn him 5,000 dinars (five US dollars) when resold.

The daily dumping of rubbish - which people in the middle-class residential district of al-Jihad assume comes from coalition civilian or military sources – provides a supplementary income for some people.

"It's a shame," said student Najawan Ali. "Some people are sleeping in the streets waiting for new garbage, others have claimed sections of the dump, while some try to control [it]."

But other locals are appalled by the refuse, saying it’s a health hazard and an insult.

"We are afraid people will sell expired food after changing the expiry date," said Iham Akram, as he disapprovingly watches his neighbours going through the rubbish.

"When the CPA [Coalition Provincial Authority] dumps rubbish in the middle of the neighbourhood, it hurts Iraqis' honour," said Fowzi Hussein.

Referring to the pornographic magazines that are sometimes found, Nihad, a middle-aged man, said, "It is immoral, uncivilised, and against our religion."

Some locals are so incensed that they’ve threatened to take matters into their own hands.

Grocer Raad Khamees says that he has tried to burn the waste at night, but people come and extinguish his fires. Others threaten that if the CPA does not stop dumping rubbish, residents will begin conducting “resistance”. “If the Americans continue a terrible battle will ensue,” said taxi driver Khalil Mahir.

But for the groups of scavengers, the dump is a veritable trove of discarded treasures. They haul out old magazines, clothes, expired food, shoes, bed linen, dishes and even silverware.

Saif Majeed, a young man combing the refuse, says he is pleased with the magazines he found. They showed him “that strange world which is full of modern cars, new technology, clothes, fashion magazines, and the like”.

For others, though, the dump simply provides an opportunity to make ends meet. A widow with four children said she was just looking for clothes and food.

Mohamed Fawzi and Izzat Abdul Razaq are IWPR trainee journalists.

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