Baghdad: The Baghdad-Kirkuk-Diyala road is no longer a dangerous highway if one goes by the amusing stories told by the drivers in this troubled country.
Kazim, an Iraqi driver, told Gulf News: "I am a Shiite Kurdish Faili. I pick passengers from Baghdad to Kirkuk, Arbil, and to Khales in Diyala. What happens then is they take another car driven by a Sunni driver because the road from Baghdad to Khales goes through Al Shaab region, which is controlled by Shiite militias. Khales and upwards are under Sunni militias, so this method is important for keeping the drivers and the passengers safe."
In Al Nahza garage in central Baghdad, which has been repeatedly subjected to attacks, drivers gather to talk and exchange stories of the travel and passengers. Though the stories hold a great deal of fear yet they narrate them as jokes.
Abdul Jabbar, a Sunni driver living in Baghdad, told Gulf News: "Sometimes terrorists stop me near Al Atheem area, which is controlled by Sunni militias. I tell them I am from Al Jabor Sunni clan. They check my ID and then I tell them the passengers are my neighbours and relatives, and to let me go on my journey. Other times terrorists check the passengers' IDs, which might end up with kidnapping and murdering the passengers."
An exciting aspect of the trips is the information the drives share about clans as it can save their and the passengers' lives.
Zuhair Al Rubaee, a retired driver, shares stories with his colleagues. He told Gulf News: "A Shiite driver provides information about the Mahdi Army, its leaders in specific regions and their clans. The Sunni driver would do the same for the benefit of a Shiite driver, and this is a very useful method to prevent any harm from terrorists in case they set up checkpoints on the road. It is useful, too, because the new IDs don't have clan name to avoid sectarian assassinations and thus there is a slight chance for driver to defraud terrorists and extremists of both sides. Sharing of information between Sunni and Shiite drivers is a benefit for all."
A Sunni driver thus drives along with a Shiite driver from Baghdad to Kirkuk.
The Shiite drives first until they reach the Khales region and then he exchanges place with the Sunni driver and lets him drive from Khales to Kirkuk where another Kurdish driver waits for them in his car to pick up passengers to Arbil because he is authorised to enter Arbil with his registered car.
Khalil, a Kurdish driver, told Gulf News: "We as Shiite, Sunni and Kurd drivers help each other as brothers and that is an example of the Iraqi national unity because we want ... a good earning and life for everyone."