Iraq village takes radical stand against national woes
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.
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.