Iraq's Beautiful Trash

I was having my morning chai at the Shahan Hotel in downtown Erbil when, out the window, I saw something very exciting. A garbage truck, stopped at the curb, and garbage collectors tossing in boxes and bags. I was so amazed that I lunged for my camera like I'd just spotted Bigfoot. That's when I saw another garbage truck rounding the corner. I snapped photos on the fly like a paparazzi tailing Tom Cruise.gtruck_erbil.jpgIn five trips to Iraq totalling five months, these are the first garbage trucks I've seen -- and they're the best evidence so far of the development of civil society -- if not in all of Iraq, then at least here in Kurdistan. Elsewhere, garbage including animal parts and discarded food piles up in big festering heaps on the streets until somebody with a pickup truck volunteers to haul it to the city limits, where it gets dumped in sprawling fields of waste 30 years old and hundreds of acres in size. The garbage is so dense in places that during hot summers, it spontaneously combusts, fueling putrid garbage fires that burn uncontrolled for days. The upside of garbage fires is that they keep down the populations of vicious wild dogs that live in the garbage, venturing into the cities at night to terrorize pedestrians and domestic animals.What Iraq needs, more than any election or military campaign, is basic civic infrastructures like garbage collection. There's little sense of public good or public ownership in most Iraqi cities, which contrbutes to the lack of security. If you don't care enough to keep your streets clean, how in the world are you going to muster the enthusiasm to ward of terrorists and foreign fighters, both public nuisances that, unlike garbage, can kill you?-- David Axe

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