Iraqis often complain about the problems in their country and the government's lack of obvious progress in solving them. But as drivers in...
BAGHDAD — Iraqis often complain about the problems in their country and the government’s lack of obvious progress in solving them.
But as drivers in traffic-clogged Baghdad learned this week, Iraqi officials are taking action in one area: strict enforcement of a seat-belt law.
Later this month, traffic police officers all over Iraq will start issuing tickets to any scofflaw who drives without buckling up. Violators will be fined 15,000 dinars — about $12.50.
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“It is part of the healing process of this country and of Baghdad to enforce the law, law by law,” said Brig. Gen. Zuhair Abada Mraweh, traffic commander for the capital’s Rusafah district.
“The citizens are learning the laws step by step,” said Mraweh, sitting in his office in the Karada neighborhood.
Some might say that there are more pressing issues, such as the car bombs, the daily killings and kidnappings, the political and sectarian infighting. Or that enforcing the seat-belt law might not be an adequate solution in a city where traffic rarely moves above a crawl, checkpoints are ubiquitous, roads often are blocked and it is not uncommon to see a vehicle charging down a street in the wrong direction or abruptly swerving across lanes.
But as traffic police officers warned Baghdad drivers this week that seat-belt enforcement was about to begin, many drivers said it was probably a good thing.
“It is a symbol of civilization,” said a taxi driver, Ahmed Wahayid, whose 1993 Honda was stuck in a long line of cars waiting to clear a checkpoint.
“Western people in Europe and America have it, so we are like them.” Wahayid said.
Wahayid said he could not find words to describe the traffic in Baghdad. “It’s a very, very bad feeling, and if I didn’t need to drive in order to eat and live, I wouldn’t,” he said.
Mraweh said that the seat-belt legislation — which applies only to drivers, not passengers — was in effect during the government of Saddam Hussein. After the Americans invaded in 2003, a high import tax on automobiles was lifted, flooding Iraq with enthusiastic new drivers.
Mraweh is passionate about traffic control. He is particularly irritated by the driving behavior of the employees of security companies such as Blackwater, who sometimes throw water bottles at people walking down the street or shoot their guns in the air to clear the road, he said.
Primarily, however, Mraweh said he sees his job as a way to piece together his shattered country.
“If everyone says there are killings, there are massacres, then I will stay powerless at home and this will disable the country,” he said. “But if the grocer goes to work, the merchant goes to work, I go to work, even you go to work, there will be no more killing, and the criminal will be afraid and he will go back to his den like a mouse.”