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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

IRAQ: Baghdad taxi drivers devise new survival tactics

BAGHDAD, 5 July 2007 (IRIN) - Before 2006, Noor Adel Abdullah, a 21-year-old student of English at Baghdad's College of Languages, used to take a 20-minute ride by bus to get to her college. Now, she needs at least an hour and three buses to reach the same destination.

Noor finds it difficult to get a Sunni bus driver to drive her from her Sunni Amiriyah neighbourhood in western Baghdad to the Shia Bab al-Mudham area in the east, where the college is located.

"I have to change buses three times as most of the Sunni drivers can't get through Shia areas and vice-versa, as they fear sectarian violence," said Abdullah.

For decades, Iraq's six million-strong capital was a city where people mixed freely and did not care whether their neighbour was a Sunni or a Shia Muslim.

However, that peaceful coexistence between members of different religions and sects in Baghdad is now being threatened as diehards from the two Muslim sects fight for their own territory.

“Road of death”

As a result, Baghdad’s residents, especially taxi and bus drivers, are deploying their own tactics to protect themselves from Sunni or Shia militants roaming areas in which they are in a majority, and setting up bogus checkpoints to capture members of the other sect.

"For a Sunni taxi or bus driver, entering a Shia neighbourhood or crossing the river means death," said Omar Nasser Hassan, a 39-year-old Sunni minibus driver from Baghdad's western Ghazaliyah neighbourhood.

Hassan used to take passengers from Baghdad's southwestern religiously-mixed neighbourhood of Baya to Shia Bab al-Mudham in east Baghdad where one of the main bus stations is located.

"But now it has become a road of death for me and other Sunni drivers as we have to go through areas where the Mahdi army [Shia militiamen loyal to radical preacher Muqtada al-Sadr] are active," Hassan said.

Now he works only in Sunni-dominated neighbourhoods in western Baghdad.

New tactics

Drivers who find themselves forced to pass through areas and neighbourhoods where the other sect is dominant, use other tactics.

"I never ever speak in the slang of the southern part of Iraq [used by Shia Iraqis] and I never put anything in my car which would indicate I'm a Shia, things like photographs of Shia Imams [religious leaders], nor do I play cassettes of religious music," said Mohammed Ubaid Ali, a 22-year-old Shia taxi driver.

"I even have another ID with the name of Omar [mainly used by Sunnis] in case Sunni militants stop me," Ali added.

Carved up city

Baghdad’s centre of Shia power is in the city's northeastern Sadr City slum. It is an almost exclusively Shia community of 2.5 million people and the stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia.

From Sadr City, Mahdi militiamen can move across eastern Baghdad to reach areas to the south and east. This gives them a degree of control along the eastern and northern routes into the city.

On the opposite side of the river, Sunni insurgents are more active. They have turned the major western neighbourhoods of Jihad, Amiriyah, Ghazaliyah, Yarmouk and Mansour into virtual no-go zones for Shias.

Baghdad map

Humourous emails are circulating among Baghdad's residents assessing the security situation in the city, as many areas have become no-go zones for either Sunnis or Shias.

The emails list safe neighbourhoods and those which should be avoided because of the activities of the al-Mahdi army or groups linked to al-Qaeda, or because of a car bomb explosion.

"There are four different categories of neighbourhoods and areas: safe, relatively safe, dangerous, and relatively dangerous," said the author of one of these emails.

"They are classified as follows: a safe area: where the probability of you staying alive is 50 per cent; a relatively safe area: where the probability of you staying alive is 40 per cent; a relatively dangerous area: where the probability of you staying alive is 30 per cent; and a dangerous area: where the probability of you staying alive is 20 to 10 per cent," he said.

The email writer has dubbed Dora, Baghdad's Sunni southern district, lawless. He does not consider it to be part of Iraq: “It is currently an Islamic emirate with its own Islamic departments and ministers. Islamic CDs have been distributed to residents to explain the laws of the emirate," he said.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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