Iraq Pulse

Cab drivers in Baghdad driving under the influence

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Article Summary
In Baghdad, some taxi drivers drink alcohol while driving at night, with security officers often turning a blind eye.

Mohamad Zaalan, 24, is a cab driver in Baghdad who very carefully chooses his clients from the street. He prefers to pick up young people wearing modern clothes, because they are not the kind of passenger who bothers him when he drinks his daily beer. He is even delighted if a client shares a cold beer with him.

Zaalan only works during the evenings. “Traffic during the day is annoying. Baghdad is more spacious at night,” he told Al-Monitor.

Since curfew in Baghdad starts at midnight and ends at 4 a.m., Zaalan does not have time to go to a bar after work to drink the three bottles of beer he has grown accustomed to drinking daily.

At around 10 p.m., it’s not uncommon to see cab drivers in central Baghdad turn up the volume of their radios, which play sad or happy songs, nor is it strange to see someone swaying to the music at traffic lights. You might even spot a person urinating on the side of the road because beer had filled him up. Those who walk around Baghdad at night are accustomed to these scenes.

To determine whether or not a given passenger will be annoyed by alcohol, Zaalan usually asks him what he thinks about alcohol and if it's a good thing. If the passenger answers positively, Zaalan replies, “What a relief! Care for a drink?” 

Zaalan settles for beer, but Alaa Saher, 27, has to drink a quarter-liter (half-pint) of whiskey to be satisfied.

Some drivers prefer their whiskey mixed with fruit-flavored soda or an energy drink and then poured into a small water bottle. The drink, called a “feeding bottle,” is sold in most liquor stores in Baghdad.

Saher has been drinking in his taxi for three years. He believes it’s the best way to drink alcohol.

“Bars are really expensive, and many problems and fights occur there. My car is the ideal bar for me, I can listen to whatever music I want,” he told Al-Monitor.

Saher and Zaalan hide their alcoholic drinks when they arrive at the checkpoints that pervade the capital. However, some security men are well-aware that drivers are not exactly sober, so they ask if he is “doing OK.” The driver then answers “perfectly fine.” It is some sort of code between drivers and security men, who turn a blind eye to the alcohol in the car and let it pass through without inspection.

Zaalan said that some of the security men ask if he has extra beers for them. For his part, Saher has two extra beers on hand every day for this reason.

Two years ago, men used to park their cars near the Tigris River on Abu Nawas Street and gather to drink alcohol. However, police patrols from the Green Zone — home to most Iraqi politicians — have recently prevented people from gathering there, pushing many drivers to drink and drive at night.

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Found in: taxi, society, police, iraq, baghdad, alcohol

Omar al-Jaffal is an Iraqi writer and poet. He is an editor of Bayt and Nathr, two intellectual magazines that are published in Iraq. He is also the chief editor of Al-Aalam al-Jadid, an electronic newspaper.

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