Conflict & Justice

In Iraq, a $600 bribe can get you a driver's license


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, arriving at the White House, Friday, to meet with President Obama.


REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Terror, death and corruption. Sadly, that seems to characterize much of life in the new Iraq.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, met with President Obama at the White House on Friday. At the top of the agenda was security. The violence in Iraq has only gotten worse in the two years since most US troops were withdrawn. Maliki wants more American help — including sophisticated weaponry — to take on increasingly bold and dangerous insurgents.

"The numbers speak for themselves," says Baghdad-based Iraqi journalist, Sahar Issa.

"Just in October, we had 979 people killed, 1,902 injured, nationwide. That's the highest figure since April, 2008. ... Security is really going down the drain."

Issa says people are increasingly worried and many respond by staying at home as much as they can.

Corruption, too, has become a plague.

"You have no idea," says Issa. "Now, I  am told I can get a driving license for $600 ... or if I want to get the [license] plate for my car, I have to pay $1,100. These are people who know how to work the system, where to give the bribes. And I don't want to do that. But sometimes people just don't have a choice. It has become institutionalized. It has become a revenue-generating machine. And the people who are a part of that machine have come to depend on these incomes ... and they will fight, they will kick, they will bite, to keep them." 

Despite the violence and the corruption, Issa refuses to leave Iraq. "If everyone who can lend a hand in building this country leaves, then we have no right to complain, do we?"

But, she adds, that does not extend to her loved ones. "If I feel that any family member is in danger, I will do my best to get them to safety one way or the other. But, generally speaking, if I had my own preference, I would stay in the country, I would lend a hand. I would try to make a difference, I don't know how or where, in rebuilding a country that I love."