Test-Driving A Hummer H3, In Baghdad The American Hummer, made known to Iraqis through U.S. military operations, is now being advertised and sold as a status symbol to young, wealthy Iraqis. NPR's Ivan Watson test-drove an H3 on the streets of Baghdad and picked up compliments along the way.

Test-Driving A Hummer H3, In Baghdad

Test-Driving A Hummer H3, In Baghdad

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Hummers are on display at Safa Selmen Menjed's car dealership in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. Ivan Watson/NPR hide caption

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Ivan Watson/NPR

Hummers are on display at Safa Selmen Menjed's car dealership in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

Ivan Watson/NPR

Joy-riding Iraqis drive their flashy Hummers through Baghdad at night. Kais Al Jalele for NPR hide caption

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Kais Al Jalele for NPR

Joy-riding Iraqis drive their flashy Hummers through Baghdad at night past a concrete barrier painted the colors of the Iraqi flag.

Kais Al Jalele for NPR

Security. Militia. Badge. Apache. These are just a few of the English words Iraqis have adopted over the course of a military occupation that has lasted more than five years.

The most common catchphrase of all is Hummer. That's the word Iraqs now use to describe just about anything military on wheels.

The Hummer has become one of the most ubiquitous symbols of the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

In fact, the real name for the tan truck that the military introduced to Iraq in 2003 is high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle, or Humvee. It was General Motors that named the civilian version of the vehicle Hummer.

Now Safa Selmen Menjed, 28, is trying to market the Hummer as a status symbol to wealthy Iraqis.

Menjed advertises his business on a busy Baghdad street, keeping three shiny Hummers parked out front. He is happy to offer customers a test drive.

Moments after meeting him, I am cruising in a candy-red H3 SUV. Next to us, barreling down a poorly lit street, is a banana yellow H3 blaring Arabic pop music. The driver and his friend are clapping and whistling. It's something I never expected to do in Baghdad.

As they drive through streets that have been repeatedly hit over the years by waves of deadly violence, Menjed and his friend in the other Hummer pass CDs back and forth through the windows.

"Every weekend, I tow my jet-ski to the river in this Hummer," Menjed says, as he takes a drag from a cigarette.

The joyride is often interrupted at Iraqi army checkpoints, where uniformed soldiers, often standing next to their own military Humvees, wave Menjed and his friends through.

At one checkpoint, a possibly drunk policeman cheerfully compliments Menjed on his car, speaking broken English.

"Hello mister. Traffic police. [I am] Mr. Saad. Nice Hummer. Traffic police!" he says.

Menjed says sometimes American and Iraqi soldiers ask to take pictures of their Hummers next to his. But some Iraqis criticize his car, he says, because of its association with the American military.

"Some people ask me, 'Why are you driving a Hummer?' It is a symbol of the occupation," Menjed says. "I tell them many of the cars here are American, like Chevrolet and Dodge. Why only criticize the Hummer?"

Back at the car dealership, Omar Shakouri, 25, takes a break from shopping for a much more humble Toyota Camry to explain why some Iraqis like the Hummer.

"You know the miserable roads, you need a big car," Shakouri says. "And the Hummer, with the military, show it's a hard and good car."

"This is the best car for showing off your money to young Iraqis," says Alla Saadi, who is admiring a canary yellow Hummer. "We feel free around these civilian Hummers but not around the military ones. Those bring back all the bad memories."