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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 14:40 GMT
Russian taxi cabs headed for Iraq
Gaz Volga
Russian cars aren't known for their good looks
Russian-made taxis will soon be running alongside tanks and armoured vehicles on the streets of Iraq.

An order for 5,000 Volga cars was placed before the US invaded in March and the first batch of 300 vehicles is just being delivered.

The Volga is produced by Russia's Gaz and was built to survive harsh winters and rough handling.

Iraq will reportedly also be importing another 11,000 cars, including US models, Nissans and Peugeots.

Reward

Simple, black and more 70s-style than Formula 1, the Volgas have been reinforced for Iraq's unpredictable roads.

There are very few, if any, of the cars already in Iraq.

The trade embargo placed on the country during the past decade meant there was limited access to everything from life-saving drugs to chocolate.

The country's current fleet of taxis consists of 1980s Volkswagens and Nissans imported three years ago.

The contract with Gaz was seen by analysts as rewarding Russia for opposing UN sanctions on Iraq.

There had been some doubt whether contracts with the Saddam Hussein government would be honoured by the present authorities in Iraq.

Contractors had feared that business would be passed to American and coalition firms.

Military

"We are sticking to past agreements but starting to include American cars in our imports," Reuters quoted an official at Iraq's General Vehicle Agency as saying.

"Our team is at the Jordanian port of Aqaba receiving the first 300 Volgas."

The US Government has said it will spend $18.6bn on rebuilding Iraq.

Some of that money is expected to filter down to ordinary Iraqis, boosting demand for consumer goods, analysts said.


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