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 Kurdistan: Facing the challenge of automobiles

 Source : The Globe issue 68, August 1
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Kurdistan: Facing the challenge of automobiles 1.8.2006

Kurdistan-Iraq, August 1, -- The flow of cars, both new and second hand, into the Kurdistan Region has increased greatly since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Regime in 2003.

“In the last few months, around 800,000 cars have been brought into Iraq, and a large portion of those were imported into Kurdistan,” LTC Qadir Siddiq of the Erbil Traffic Police Directorate stated. “We register 30-40 cars every day.”

There are a number of exhibitions of new and used cars in Erbil. Cihan Group Plaza, which opened a showroom two years ago, sells cars manufactured by Toyota and KIA.

“Our sales have increased by 70%,” Cihan manager Hunar Abdul-Latif said.
Sales rates have fallen, however, in used car exhibitions. “Sales have fallen by up to 35% here,” revealed Najat Muhammed, manager of North Exhibition.
The figures reflect the economic conditions of the population. “Kurds are becoming better off and so more of them can afford to purchase new cars,” Huner explained.

Another car market in Erbil is the “ulouj” market. “Ulouj” was the term used by the former Iraqi Information Minister al-Sahhaf to describe American soldiers in 2003, and is traditionally used by Arabs as a term of humiliation for non-Arabs. Since 2003, “ulouj” was used to label cars looted from the fallen Baathist Government, many of which found their way to the Kurdistan Region.

According to the Regional Government’s regulations, said LTC Qadir, ulouj cars will be returned to any one who can prove ownership. If not, the car will be registered to whoever is currently in possession of it.

Congestion on the roads of Kurdistan has been exacerbated by the flow of people entering the region from the rest of Iraq to escape violence and terrorism. Pedestrians suffer from the enormous number of cars on the streets, making it extremely difficult to cross roads, and drivers are finding themselves trapped in increasingly frequent traffic jams.

There are several projects underway attempting to alleviate the problem by constructing bridges and widening roads.

The Erbil Traffic Police Directorate is also working to reduce the number of cars on the roads and recently issued a directive stating that a new car’s license plate would have to be taken from an old car, which would then be disassembled.

“This will also help the environment,” LTC Qadir explained.

If one looks down on Erbil from some miles away, one can see a black cloud hanging over the city. Old cars, in particular, are contributing to this pollution.

Car sellers, however, are not happy about the new rules as it has made new cars more expensive. Huner stated that his company was forced to pay an additional $2000 to buy an old car in order to get a license plate for a new one. “The government is incompetent,” he complained.

The Kurdistan Region is likely to face an even larger number of cars on its roads in the near future. Overall, car prices have fallen by almost 10%, and look to plummet still further as a result of competition. The authorities and residents will have to act quickly to face this challenge.



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