Tuesday, August 05, 2003

It is a familiar scene in post-Saddam Baghdad. Even by the low standards of other Middle Eastern cities, the traffic in the Iraqi capital is off the scale. Everyone ignores the traffic lights; roundabouts are driven around according to whichever route seems quickest; and the lane markings might as well not exist.

A few blocks away from where Sgt Naji is fighting his losing battle, Rashid Hamid, also a sergeant, has given up and is hiding from the punishing glare of the afternoon sun in a shelter. Next to him sits a white Suzuki motorcycle which he once used to chase traffic offenders. He doesn't bother with that any more.

"What is the point? People take no notice of us. They have no respect for us because they know we cannot take any action because there is no law and there are no courts," he said. "Before, when we could fine people, everybody kept to the law. Now they just swear at us. Insulting a traffic policeman used to get you six months in jail."

Most of all Sgt Hamid, who has been a traffic policeman for 18 years, wanted his gun back - which the US authorities in Iraq will not allow. "How will people take us seriously unless we have a gun?"

According to him some of the drivers causing mayhem on Baghdad's roads probably do not even know they are breaking the law. The directorate of traffic was looted during the conflict, and driving licences can now be bought on any street cornerfor a few dinars.

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