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

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

While in the U.S. General Motors is trying to sell off its Hummer brand, in Iraq, the military version, the Humvee, has become one of the most ubiquitous symbols of the American military presence. That hasn't stopped some young Iraqis from embracing the flashy and huge Hummers. NPR's Ivan Watson sent this postcard from Baghdad.

IVAN WATSON: 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 Iraqis now use to describe just about anything military on wheels. In fact, the real name for the tan truck that the U.S. 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. And now 28-year-old Safa Selmen Menjed 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.

(Soundbite of car starting up)

WATSON: Menjed is happy to offer customers a test drive.

This is something I never expected to do in Baghdad. I'm cruising in a candy-red H3, Hummer 3, SUV. And next to me is another Hummer 3. It's banana yellow, blaring Arabic pop music. And we're cruising through the streets of Baghdad at night with some young affluent Iraqis who are showing off their flashy cars.

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 window from car to car. 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.

(Soundbite of Menjed conversing with an Iraqi policeman in Arabic)

WATSON: At this checkpoint, a possibly drunk policeman with a flashlight signal cheerfully compliments Menjed on his car.

(Soundbite of Menjed conversing with an Iraqi policeman in Arabic)

WATSON: Menjed says sometimes American and Iraqi soldiers ask to take pictures of their Hummers next to his Hummer. But he concedes some Iraqis criticize his car because of its association with the U.S. occupation. Back at the car dealership, 25-year-old Omar Shakouri takes a break from shopping for a much more humble Toyota Camry to explain why some Iraqis like the Hummer.

Mr. OMAR SHAKOURI: You know, the miserable roads. You need a big car. And the Hummer, it's a hard and good car.

WATSON: Another man named Alla Saadi stood in front of the dealership admiring a canary-yellow Hummer.

Mr. ALLA SAADI: (Arabic spoken)

WATSON: This is the best car for showing off your money to young Iraqis, he says. We feel free around these civilian Hummers, but not around the military ones. Those, he adds, bring back all the bad memories. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Baghdad.

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