Across much of Iraq the government has been able to clamp down on the use of the cars but Anbar province has refused to pass a law banning the cars. The pre-2004 models which are cheaper than normal cars on the market have been quickly snapped up by the Anbar public.
According to Anbar’s traffic directorate, the need to focus on improving security and defeating al-Qaeda in the province has pulled attention and resources away from the fight against smuggled cars.
In the aftermath of a car bombing at the end of 2007 which killed 15 people, security authorities issued an order allowing the temporary licensing of smuggled cars. Brigadier General Ahmed Abdullah Khalaf, head of Anbar’s traffic directorate, said that the order was issued to encourage owners of cars to register their names and their cars in a bid to end car bombings.
“We know that these cars are illegal, but the directorate, in cooperation with concerned authorities, found it necessary to register them, Khalaf told Niqash. “If a car explodes, or is in an accident, we can know the owner and how the car entered the province.”
Additionally, “Anbar’s location, bordering Syria and Jordan from the north and west, has contributed to the increase in the numbers of smuggled cars and limits our ability to combat the smuggling,” said a source at the traffic directorate.
Car smugglers have benefited from this leniency. One smuggler, Abu Umar described the smuggling process to Niqash. “I go to Syria from time to time to buy old cars. Before reaching the Syrian borders there are offices that can prepare the necessary documentation. We give them the chassis number and they prepare the car plate and fake its specification papers… Of course we have contacts with Syrians and Iraqis on the borders who ease procedures,” he said, adding that smuggling across the Jordanian border was significantly more difficult.
Abu Fahd, the owner of a car shop in Ramadi confirmed that cars coming across the Jordanian border have to meet Jordanian customs requirements, which necessitates breaking the car up and transporting it as spare parts. “When we arrive in Ramadi we put the parts together without any problem or risk,” he said.
The cars are sold with relative ease in Anbar.
“Instead of buying one legally imported car for a high price, I bought two cars for $4000, one for me and one for my son to use,” said one customer, Munther al-Rawi.
Yet Abu Fahd told Niqash that lately business has been negatively affected as a result of fears that the province’s authorities are preparing to ban the use of the cars.
According to General Khalaf, “the directorate is intending to seriously study this issue and stop licensing new smuggled cars… Everybody should accept the decision which will soon be taken regardless of its positive or negative impact.”
Khalaf also called for stronger measures to block smuggling routes. "I know that many customs employees receive money to facilitate the entry of these cars. This is corrupt; the new council and governor should face this situation and take necessary and firm action to deter these employees and hold them accountable for their acts."