Around 160 kilometres south of Baghdad is the village of Al Battar, with around 5,000 residents and most of the homes sitting alongside the main road that leads from the capital into Wasit province, and toward the provincial capital of Kut.
For years the residents here have been worried about the speed at which drivers charge through their small town. They worry that children and even livestock are continuously at risk because of speeding cars and trucks.
Homemade speed bumps have led to a number of accidents. But it isn’t logical that a small village be allowed to impose its will upon the state.
Local man Ali-al-Kaabi tells NIQASH that he lost two specially bred cows because of wild drivers. “People don’t care how fast they are going through here and there are more and more accidents,” al-Kaabi says. “The residents have made several complaints to successive governments here but there has been no response.”
“The people here have been asking that a service road be built for years,” adds another resident Ali Hassan. “But the security crisis caused by the Islamic State meant there were not enough resources to implement such a project.”
So, the villagers took matters into their own hands. They began to construct speed bumps in the middle of the road with found materials. But the speed bumps did not exactly do what they were supposed to. The obstructions on the road into and around Al Battar started to cause more accidents than they prevented, as drivers ran into the unexpected obstacles at their usual speed.
About a year ago, the province’s former governor, Malik Khalaf, issued an order to have the speed bumps removed. Despite the fact that the speed bumps are on what is basically state property, that order has not been enforced - and the people of Al Battar refuse to remove the obstacles themselves.
Now some are saying that the Wasit traffic department decided that they had to do something about the obstinate individuals in Al Battar and they have instituted a province-wide speed limit as a result.
The speed limit is not just there because of Al Battar’s home-made speed bumps. Official information says that speed limits must be reduced in the province because of the bad state of local roads; these make it dangerous to go any faster than 120 kilometres per hour, Wasit officials say.
The traffic department has cars roaming the roads equipped with radars, in order to enforce the new speed limits, Riad Badr, a senior officer with the department told NIQASH. “They are there around the clock and they are monitoring violations,” Badr noted.
The speed limit was introduced with great fanfare. The province’s new governor, Mahmoud al-Mulla Talal, was seen in a video clip, scolding a speeding driver personally.
“Homemade speed bumps have led to a number of accidents,” says one upset citizen from the province. “But it isn’t logical that a small village be allowed to impose its will upon the state. Why isn’t the local government doing anything to change this?”
At the same time, the new speed limits have bought good news for some. The fines imposed on violators have increased significantly, says Menem Huwaidi, the head of Wasit’s traffic department.
Hassan al-Furaiji, a driver from the neighbouring province of Maysan, can confirm the crackdown. He says he got two speeding tickets in the space of one week, each costing IQD30,000 (around US$25). “I’m used to driving at 180 kilometres an hour and it’s hard for me to adjust,” he explains.