Baghdad – Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi permanently lifted Baghdad’s night curfew after a decade of US-imposed restrictions that kept residents indoors between midnight and 5am. Thousands of Iraqis subsequently poured into the streets, testing their newfound freedom to be outdoors overnight.
The curfew came into effect during the Iraq War, after US-led coalition forces stationed in Baghdad became targets for night-time attackers, who took advantage of the later hours “to avoid targeting innocent people”, according to a statement issued at the time. During the first few years of the curfew, dozens of Iraqis risked being arrested or killed by US forces when they broke the curfew for emergency situations, such as going to the hospital or searching for a missing relative.
Years later, as Iraqi forces gradually took charge of the country’s security, the night curfew remained. After the last US troops left in 2011, Iraqi security forces eased the curfew for emergency situations, but it remained tight and subject to the personal judgements of security forces.
Al Jazeera spoke with Baghdad residents about how they have responded to the curfew’s lifting.
|Alaa al-Daraji, 24, activist|
Lifting the night curfew in Baghdad brings life back to Baghdad streets and significantly impacted people who lost the hope that they will get their normal life back.
It was a strong message, saying the life of Iraqis will not stop and Baghdad is fine and recovering. But this decision needs to be supported and maintained by people, to the very end.
|Mohammed Wali, 35, government employee|
Finally this nightmare ended, as lifting the curfew gives people more time to move around, especially in the emergency situations when you have a patient or need to travel outside Baghdad or abroad.
Since 2003, often times, I had to spend the night stuck at a security checkpoint because I was out after the curfew hours transferring a patient to hospital or heading home from another province. At times I was not allowed to pass through the checkpoints to reach my home.
Also I believe that the security situation will be improved as people will be out during the night, and this will tighten the grip on terrorists.
|Saba Hadi, 30, daily worker|
I cannot describe the sense of happiness which I did not experience since 2003.
I almost lost hope that the security situation would be improved because of what happened during the last few months, but this [lifting the curfew] refreshes my hopes and I feel this is just the beginning.
I believe that now we can work at night. Many sectors are working during the night like the restaurants, the clothes stores, malls and even the building sector. This means there are bound to be more jobs and there will be a chance for me and others who cannot find work during the day.
|Muhanad Ali, 27, airman|
As an airman, I believe that lifting the night curfew will positively impact the air movement in Iraq.
Now the airlines will be able to run night flights rather than be restricted to day trips, and this will relieve the air traffic and reduce the suffering of passengers who had to spend long times at the airport.
|Mustafa Salim, 22, student|
I was feeling that I am a child all the time because of the night curfew, which meant no one was allowed to go out after midnight. When it was imposed, I was 14 and I did not test the night life since then.
Lifting the curfew got back the beauty of Baghdad’s night, and regardless of my concerns that this is a big risk as it will give more freedom to the gangs at night, a lot of people who are facing emergencies at night will take advantage of it, and I am still happy.
|Haider Hatif, 40, restaurant owner|
Our business was great before 2003 as the security situation was stable and there was no night curfew, so we were working until 3am. But after 2003, we lost most of our customers, who had to stay home even before 10 pm either because of the security situation or the night curfew.
We hope that lifting the night curfew will encourage people to stay outdoors longer at the night, so our work may flourish again.