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Many Names, Same Poverty

Kholoud Ramzi
The Ghadeer neighbourhood in Karbala goes under many names. Ghadeer is its official name, after a Shia religious celebration. Its residents call it Tanak, meaning ‘tin’. This is because the houses were originally…
2.02.2010  |  Karbala

In Saddam’s time, it was given the name Baath Neighbourhood, even though the ideology was far from prominent there.

In the last three years, many of the youth in the neighbourhood have been associated with the Mahdi Army and Jund al-Sama armed militias, so the area took on the unofficial name of Militiat neighbourhood, indicating the concern felt by locals and the authorities.

‘The place has changed,’ says Uday Bajay, a social scientist and expert on the neighbourhood’s development. ‘It has turned into a randomly-built neighbourhood of small dwellings, as poor people form the city and nearby areas moved here, building houses made of mud or cement.

It is one of the Karbala’s poorest neighbourhoods and 60% of the houses there are state-owned. Many of the very basic dwellings are built illegally on state-owned land, without prior government permission, and remain unregistered.

In the al-Hussein neighbourhood, houses tend to cover 600 sq. m, while in Muwathafeen, they are more modest at 200 sq. m. In Ghadeer, though, the largest houses are 100 sq. m and the average between 30 and 70 sq. m.

Officially, there are 4,000 houses in the neighbourhood. However, Aajber al-Maktoufi, the area’s Mukhtar or leader said, “The real number of houses is much higher than the officially announced one.”

He says that only the houses in the very centre are counted. “There are many shops and houses in the distant areas of the neighbourhood which were not accurately counted by the municipality reaching up to some 2,000 houses. It is the biggest neighbourhood in the city and also has the highest population density.”

Services in the neighbourhood are very poor. There is no water sewage system and roads are not paved. In summer houses fill with dust when a car drives along the streets. In the winter they become quagmires with mud. Kathimiya Fadhel lives in the neighbourhood.

“It’s the main neighbourhood for most of the people with limited income or the owners of small businesses,” she says, calling her tiny house there “a blessing from God.”

Kathimiya searched for a house with her mother and two children for two months but found nothing. In Ghadeer, she found a house that was good enough and cheap enough, with rent of only $65 a month.

For Maktoufi, however, there are few positives about the current state of his neighbourhood. He has lived there for more than 40 years.

“For many years, Ghadeer has been a neighbourhood well-known for criminal activity. Lots of criminals come here to get away from the authorities. It’s so dense and complicated that it’s easy to hide,” he says, adding, “Most Karbala residents would try to avoid living here.”

Apart from crime, many residents of Ghadeer have joined the insurgency, fighting for armed militia groups, which has helped earn the neighbourhood the dismal nickname, Militiat neighbourhood. A large number of those arrested during the government’s 2008 security crackdown on outlawed groups like Jund al-Sama were living in the neighbourhood and over half the illegal weapons recovered in Karbal province were found in the neighbourhoods of Ghadeer, Askar and Taqa. These are the poorest areas of the province, with the highest unemployment figures.

“Unemployment had led the young people to join armed militias and outlawed groups and to work for them to earn some money.” “Security authorities have found a big quantity of new weaposns inside the neighbourhood during the last two years,” said Rahman Mashawi, the head of the information department at Karbala police directorate.

Local residents blame many problems on the failure of the government to provide basic services in response to the area’s need. Some say the government responds slowly while others claim it fails entirely to respond. They allege that money allocated to the area for services in the neighbourhood is yet to reach Karbala Province’s treasury.

People living in al-Ghadeer seem indefferent about the name given to their neighbourhood. Their only concern is the provision of neceessary services that will help their neighbourhood to improve and keep its young men out of insurgent movements that threaten their security and the country’s stability.