The teenager stands in front of the mirror, adjusting his cap – left, right, left. Finally satisfied, Mujtabi Mohammod Abdul Hussein puts the finishing touches to his uniform and goes to direct traffic at one of the city of Basra’s many busy crossroads.
Abdul Hussein isn’t even 15 yet and he is still attending school. But today, he is also stationed at a crossroads in the centre of the southern city and directing drivers with his whistle and hand signals.
He prefers this work to playing video games. He wants to serve his country.
Abdul Hussein says he became obsessed with the idea of becoming a policeman through watching movies and soap operas. “I dreamed of being a policeman and bringing criminals to justice,” he says. “I was so impressed by how devoted these men are to the law and what is right.”
Abdul Hussein’s mother, Hawa, works as a teacher and she admits that her son became a little bit obsessed with the idea of being a policeman. At first she was worried because his passion did not seem to be helping with his schooling. She consulted specialists who suggested he might be acting this way because he sensed a lack of protection thanks to an absent father.
But she has decided to let him find his own way. “He’s just a teenager and his personality is still forming,” she explains, “so I am not going to put any pressure on him.”
In fact, the head of Basra’s traffic police, Adel Fayad al-Soudani, says that Abdul Hussein’s mother was an integral part of the reason why he decided to let the teen work on his force during his free time and over the holidays. “It was important that his parents supported the idea,” al-Soudani told NIQASH.
The public relations department also thought it was a great idea to get the local traffic officers some good publicity and as a result, al-Soudani says, “Abdul Hussein is now the youngest traffic officer in Basra- but he does not have a military rank. We have given him some private lessons and he is now out on the streets, working hard.”
Before being allowed to volunteer, Abdul Hussein had to pass a number of tests and learn traffic laws. He prefers this work, he says, “to playing video games or wasting my time. I want to serve my country,” he says. Eventually he would like to became an intelligence officer, he concludes.
“The traffic department needs more staff and the most positive thing about this initiative is the fact that it involves the young people of this city,” says
Bassem Shayah al-Maliki, the local traffic commissioner. The only thing al-Maliki worries about is how long Abdul Hussein wants to volunteer with the department for. “Traffic police work long hours and he might get sick of that,” he muses. “His circumstances or wishes might also change.”
For the time being though, Abdul Hussein is more than happy: He gets to wear his uniform and do an important job for his city, while dreaming of eventually becoming a detective or a spy at the same time.