BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqis roared through central Baghdad in dozens of cars flying flags, honking horns and filling the street with smoke from their screeching tyres to celebrate the end of a years-old nightly curfew.
“Long live Iraq!”, a young man shouted while hanging out the window of a passing car early on Sunday morning.
It was the first night in years that Baghdad residents could stay out as late as they wished, after Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi ordered an end to the long-running curfew that had most recently lasted from midnight to 5am.
While most residents stayed at home, some chose to mark the occasion in a more lively fashion.
Young men made up the majority of the revellers, many of them driving American muscle cars with big engines and loud exhausts, but some families also turned out to celebrate by driving when they previously could not.
Security forces members who once stopped drivers out past curfew instead stood by and watched the show, though one young man fell afoul of the authorities for performing a burnout outside a hotel in his Dodge Challenger, the tyres shrieking and spilling smoke as they spun around. After being chastised, he sped away, turned around and proceeded to repeat the manoeuvre on the other side of the street.
Dozens of drivers parked in a long line on one side of Jadriyah bridge, with some young men dancing to music blaring from speakers in their cars.
The gathering was organised over Facebook to celebrate the end of the curfew, said Ali Majid Mohsen, a student driving a silver Dodge Charger with an Iraqi flag flying from one side.
On Karrada Dakhil, a main shopping street in central Baghdad, a group of men sat smoking water pipes in front of a cafe after midnight.
Before, we felt like we were in prison,” said Faez Adbulillah Ahmed, the owner of the cafe. “We were restricted. We would have to leave by 11.30 pm to reach the house by twelve. We will be free to stay.”
Down the street, a group of young men stood smoking cigarettes in front of a clothing store.
“We were waiting for this decision for years,” shopowner Marwan Hashem said of ending the curfew. Before, “when it was midnight, we would never stay out in the street,” he said.
Doing away with the curfew ends a longstanding policy aimed at curbing violence in the capital by limiting movement at night. The hours it was in force varied over the years and it has previously been cancelled but later reinstated.
The curfew did little to prevent the deadly bombings that plague Baghdad, which Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for during the day or in the early evening to maximise casualties.
Bombings killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 70 in the capital on Saturday, just hours before the lifting of the curfew. But now, Iraqis are at least able to move more freely.
Walid al-Tayyib walked down Karrada Dakhil after midnight with his young nephew, which he could not have done just a night before.
“What do we feel today? We feel all the difference. Now, thank God, we are going out with the kids enjoying ourselves.”