Here’s a real com­mute from hell: Rid­ers risk it all on Bagh­dad buses

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By James Palmer

BAGH­DAD — Frus­trated com­muters might spare a thought for their coun­ter­parts in Bagh­dad, who daily cope not only with in­ter­mit­tent cur­fews and road­blocks, but also with the threat of be­ing kid­napped or bombed.

Any jour­ney can turn out like Ali Makki’s re­cent com­mute to morn­ing classes at Nahrain Univer­sity, when his bus came upon the af­ter­math of a road­side bomb­ing. The ve­hi­cle had to de­tour along the out­skirts of the city, where it passed — with­out in­ci­dent — a wan­der­ing gang of mil­i­tants armed with AK47s and rocket-pro­pelled grenades.

On his trip home the same day, Mr. Makki sur­vived a fire­fight be­tween the Iraqi mil­i­tary and in­sur­gents. Later, a masked Shi’ite mili­tia­man boarded the bus at a fake check­point and led all the Sunni men off the bus to an un­known fate.

“I’m sur­prised I sur­vived,” says Mr. Makki, a 19-year-old Shi’ite who lives in the Ad­hamiyah dis­trict of north Bagh­dad.

Such sto­ries are in­creas­ingly com­mon among those who dare travel across Bagh­dad, with its in­creas­ingly seg­re­gated patch­work of Sunni and Shi’ite neigh­bor­hoods.

Rid­ers of pas­sen­ger buses or mini­vans — the most widely used forms of pub­lic trans­porta­tion — are par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to at- tacks. Armed mili­tias have tar­geted pub­lic buses for mass kid­nap­pings, and in­sur­gent groups have em­ployed them as mo­bile bombs.

Be­yond the risk of ter­ror­ism, com­mutersmust­cope­with­longde­lays that re­sult from fre­quent se­cu­rity clam­p­downs that choke the city’s bridges and thor­ough­fares.

“What can I do?” Mr. Makki said of his treach­er­ous daily com­mute. “I’m an en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent. This is my fu­ture. I have to go to my classes.”

Wis­sam Ab­bas Mo­hammed, 30, isas­hort-or­der­cook­who­some­days spends up to six hours on the 25mile round trip be­tween his home in Za­faraniya and his food stand in Jadiriyah.Dur­ingth­ecom­mute,Mr. Mo­hammed­oftenseesthe­bru­tal­ity that af­flicts his coun­try.

On Dec. 5, he saw a body on the shoul­der of the road; the man’s throat had been cut. Farther along the street, he saw a group of armed men open fire on a row of shops then haul the own­ers and pa­trons out­side.

“Be­lieve me: I see th­ese at­tacks ev­ery day,” Mr. Mo­hammed said. “My wife begs me to stay home ev­ery morn­ing.”

Some bus op­er­a­tors have aban­doned the city’s most haz­ardous routes, de­sert­ing com­muters and cre­at­ing a vac­uum in pub­lic trans­porta­tion that private driv­ers will fill for the right price.

No bus dares drive along Ayuit Mud­ha­far’s street in the west of the cap­i­tal. Mrs. Mud­ha­far, 27, a bi­ol­o­gist, must hire a private taxi with a group of col­leagues to reach her lab in south Bagh­dad.

“It’s dead even in the mid­dle of the day,” Mrs. Mud­ha­far said of the shut­tered shops and empty in­ter­sec­tion­sa­long14thSouthRa­madan Street in Mansur.

To get home, Mrs. Mud­ha­far catches a bus that costs 750 Iraqi di­nars, about 52 cents, then pays an ad­di­tional $1.40 for a private car to ferry her the fi­nal mile to her front door.

“It’s so ex­pen­sive,” Mrs. Mud­ha­far said. “I can’t walk down my street, es­pe­cially alone. We’re liv­ing in a dis­as­ter.”

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