Iraq vil­lage takes rad­i­cal stand against na­tional woes

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JEAN MARC MOJON

Smok­ing, horn honk­ing and po­lit­i­cal de­bat­ing — these may sound like a few of Iraq’s fa­vorite things, but one vil­lage has banned them all to beat the na­tional doom and gloom.

“Smok­ing just isn’t good for you,” said Kad­him Has­soon, stand­ing proudly by a red-and-white crossed out cig­a­rette sign mark­ing the en­trance of Albu Nahadh, a ham­let nes­tled along a river bank in the fer­tile heart of Iraq’s south.

The ban is a bold step in a coun­try where smok­ing in hos­pi­tals and lifts or at petrol sta­tions is not un­com­mon.

To­bacco is also banned in ar­eas held by the Is­lamic State group, but that is re­ally all Albu Nahadh has in com­mon with the self-pro­claimed caliphate that has brought Iraq to the brink of break-up.

“Re­li­gion has al­tered ev­ery­thing in this coun­try. This is why one of our rules is no re­li­gious talk. Re­li­gion should be in your heart, some­thing be­tween you and God,” said Has- soon, the driv­ing force be­hind the Albu Nahadh utopia.

Iraq has been plagued by deadly sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence for years and while the south­ern prov­inces have been largely spared ji­hadist at­tacks, thou­sands of its sons have gone to the front lines and never re­turned.

Farhan Hus­sein Ali, a med­i­cal doc­tor and pro­fes­sor, said it was Has­soon’s fa­ther, Albu Nahadh’s found­ing fig­ure, who first saw the need for vil­lage ground rules decades ago.

“Un­der Sad­dam peo­ple kept quiet, but af­ter his fall (in 2003), ev­ery­one be­gan talk­ing about pol­i­tics again,” Ali said, sit­ting cross-legged on a red cush­ion in the vil­lage meet­ing hall.

“He did not want any ar­gu­ments and in­tro­duced the ban ... to keep peace in our com­mu­nity,” he said.

‘Piece of Europe’

The list of don’ts also in­cludes selling soft drinks to chil­dren and us­ing car horns, although no penalty is in­curred for vi­o­lat­ing any of the rules.

The 46-year-old Has­soon is keen to por­tray his com­mu­nity pro­ject more as an at­tempt to be­come a mod­ern ecov­il­lage fol­low­ing global good prac­tices than a closed minire­pub­lic with quirky by­laws.

“I want this street to look like a piece of Europe,” he said.

“On June 5, we planted 300 trees,” he said, show­ing the row of young palm trees lin­ing the main road.

“How many other places in Iraq marked World En­vi­ron­ment Day 2015?” he asked, re­fer­ring to the an­nual U.N. event.

“It was a suc­cess. It may seem like noth­ing, but I can be from a small vil­lage and be part of the world. Let no­body tell me that my vil­lage can­not make a dif­fer­ence.”

It al­ready has for Mustafa Jaber, a 28-year-old ath­lete and coach who found his life pur­pose when Has­soon made phys­i­cal ex­er­cise a lo­cal ob­ses­sion.

“Jog­ging is not in the cul­ture. When I go on my daily run, peo­ple who don’t know me still stop their cars to of­fer me a ride,” said Has­soon.

Jaber also thought it a strange idea ini­tially, but Has­soon con­vinced him to run with him and the young man soon dis­played ex­cep­tional abil­ity.

‘This vil­lage is spe­cial’

He has since amassed tro­phies in a num­ber of na­tional run­ning and cy­cling events and the group of evening jog­gers from the vil­lage is grow­ing steadily.

“This vil­lage is spe­cial be­cause you have sup­port like nowhere else in Iraq,” he said, wear­ing a red-and­black track­suit, his hair still dry­ing off af­ter his daily swim in the river.

Ear­lier this year, 3,000 peo­ple took part in the an­nual vil­lage run, which in­cluded dif­fer­ent dis­tances for dif­fer­ent age groups.

AFP

Iraqi res­i­dents of the south­ern Iraqi vil­lage of Albu Na­hedh, in the al-Saniya area in Iraq’s south­ern al-Di­waniyah province, gather to eat on Mon­day, June 15.

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