Burning rubber, Baghdad bikers race to escape

Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:31am EDT
 
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By Patrick Markey

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Filling the night air with roaring engines and screeching tires, youths in bandannas tear down a highway in souped-up motorcyles, pulling wheelies and dodging cars in a cat-and-mouse with police.

Drag-racing in California, you say? No, this is Baghdad, where youthful rebellion and American biker style clash with conservative mores in Iraq, a country where just a few years ago militias imposed their own radical Islamic views at gunpoint.

Giving themselves names like "Wheelies to the Death", groups of Iraqi bikers gather on Fridays in Jedriya district to taste the thrill of speed, test authorities and forget the worries of living in a city still struggling with bombings and blackouts.

This is no Harley Davidson club cruising the banks of the Tigris. On one Friday, teens sped past standing on the seats of battered mopeds; others roared along on Hondas cobbled from second-hand parts. Those with the cash came on imported bikes.

"I live for the speed to be honest," said Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a government worker leaning on the red Suzuki he calls "Shark". "If we think about power cuts, jobs, violence, who's been killed or kidnapped, what can we do? Life goes on."

The Iraqi capital is much safer than the darker days of sectarian slaughter when suicide bombers claimed hundreds of victims a day, and Shi'ite Muslim religious militias and Sunni Islamist insurgents tried to spread radical versions of Islam.

Bombs still haunt Baghdad, power shortages are part of daily life and sectarian tensions run close to the surface. But, nine months after the last U.S. troops left, Baghdad is demonstrating signs of a city returning to some form of sanity.

Years of American military presence left many Iraqis with dark memories of U.S. influence, even after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. But Western-style music and dress often rival popular Lebanese pop culture, especially since the retreat of militias.   Continued...

 
Iraqi bikers perform during a biker show on Abu Nawas Street in Baghdad October 19, 2012. Drag-racing in California, you say? No, this is Baghdad, where youthful rebellion and American biker style clash with conservative mores in Iraq, a country where just a few years ago militias imposed their own radical Islamic views at gunpoint. REUTERS/Saad Shalash