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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June 2005, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Cabbies dodge peril on Baghdad roads
The streets of the Iraqi capital are one of the most dangerous places to be in today's Iraq.

But the perils are a daily hazard for those who must ply the streets to earn a living - Baghdad's taxi drivers.

BBC Arabic spoke to several cab drivers to find out about the new dangers and demands they face.

Stuck in heavy traffic, cab driver Ali Rubayei stares out the window, his gaze fixing on a man no more than 30cm (1 foot) away, speaking on his mobile phone.

Baghdad taxi
Taxi drivers are on the frontline in today's hazardous new Iraq
Seconds later, a deafening explosion rings out from a car on the other side of the street, and the man's skull blows right off, settling on his chest in a bloody mess.

It would have been Ali's head in a pool of blood were it not for an appropriately parked ambulance separating him from the rigged car.

In a country plagued by car bombs, violent death is a daily occupational hazard for cab drivers who brave the streets of Iraq.

Which is why Ali Mahmoud begins his day every morning with prayer. Before setting out on what he fears could be his last day on the job, he asks God to guide him safely through the perils of Baghdad.

Open market

Radio too has proven a useful companion for Iraqi cabbies.

While drivers in other countries seek guidance from weather and traffic forecasts, Wissam Nasser, 33, turns to the hourly news bulletins on Iraqi radio stations to steer clear off roads that have seen bombs or suicide attacks during the day.

Baghdad traffic
Taxi drivers are prized for their ability to beat Baghdad's traffic
Risk of death isn't the only problem the drivers face, though. With new cars flooding the market, passengers are increasingly turning away from the older, more traditional cars.

For Abu Farqad, a 53 year old who has driven the same 1985 model Toyota Corona for 20 years, this means a hard time trying to replace his car and no choice but to rely on it for his living.

"God will provide," he says helplessly.

It gets worse. A high unemployment rate has added to the plight of the drivers, as more and more owners of private cars use them as cabs as well, dramatically increasing the number of taxis on the streets. The impact of the new competition is felt acutely by the older generation of drivers.

Fare hike

The drivers' troubles reflect on passengers as well. Fuel shortages frequently drive fares to new heights, but even when the price of fuel is back to normal, the taxi fares somehow remain the same.

The excuse? Roadblocks and suffocating traffic, of course. Abu Ahmad, 51, manages to count exactly 64 roads that are closed in Baghdad. No official statistic confirms his count, but the roads are certainly far from reliable.

Countless difficulties notwithstanding, there is hope for the cabbies. Their skills at hitting Baghdad's alleyways and sidestreets to avoid traffic have proven attractive for passengers in a hurry, and they are in high demand.

At the end of the day, it is the urge to make a living that drives them everyday out into the streets, despite the chilling possibility that any car around could be rigged with explosives.



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