No electricity, no clean water — and no smoking

DIWANIYA, Iraq — Residents of troubled Qadisiyah province can be excused for wondering if local politicians have their priorities straight following the provincial council's vote to ban smoking in government buildings.

Many consider the July 1 vote, which outlawed smoking in any government office or building, as unrealistic, given that local government is still unable to provide basic services to most residents.

Local officials, on the other hand, insist they are striking a blow for public health.

"It's not right to have non-smokers exposed to deadly smoke from smokers," said Jabeer al-Jebori, head of the Qadisiyah council. "The resolution will help limit the spread of smoking in the province. Our goal is to have clean air inside government buildings to protect our employees' health."

But critics of the ban feel that authorities in the province, located in the center of Iraq, should be dealing with more pressing matters.

Fox example, they point to the shortage of electricity, clean water, schools and hospitals for the province's estimated 1.1 million residents.

"This resolution is propaganda by the local government," said Aeid Ibrahim Hasa, 40, a government employee and non-smoker.

"It doesn't promote the overall public interest. Our community is full of smokers. I'm not bothered when my colleagues smoke, so what is the reason for this kind of decision?" he asked.

Others say the ban will be nearly impossible to enforce, given the popularity of smoking among local men. The World Health Organization estimated in 2006 that more than 32 percent of Iraqi men are smokers.

"My boss smokes all the time in his office, and I don't think he will leave his room to have a cigarette because he is the boss. As a result, the people who work for him won't obey the order either. This resolution is bound to fail," said Marzuq Kamil, 50, a provincial government worker.

Some residents support the ban. Ahlam Aqeel, a 32-year-old housewife, said government offices are sometimes choked with cigarette smoke, and the new ban will improve the atmosphere.

"Smoking is one of the main causes of cancer and it affects non-smokers as well," said Hadi al-Baqir, a member of a Baghdad-based health and environmental non-governmental organization. "In Iraq, our environment is already so polluted. We don't need to increase the risk by smoking. Bans like these can help, but only if they are implemented seriously."

Council leader Jebori sees the ban as a positive step, noting that anti-smoking initiatives are "a trend in modern nations."

Last year, the Iraqi cabinet proposed a sweeping anti-smoking law that would have prohibited smoking in most public places and outlawed cigarette advertising. The measure, however, stalled in parliament.

Still, local residents wish the authorities would address some other pressing issues.

"This ban is shameful for our provincial officials," said Abu Ali, 48, a bus driver. "They have ignored our daily needs to discuss smoking. Have they solved any of our problems? Do we have electricity? Is our water clean and clear? "When all of that gets done, then it will be the right time to discuss a smoking ban," he said.

Imad al-Khuzaei is a reporter in Iraq who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Write to him at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site:

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