Bikers of Baghdad. Sunnis, Shias, Skulls, Harleys and Iraqi Flags.

Baghdad1In Baghdad, capital of Iraq, a bikers club of not-so-wild men, including Christians and Hezbollah fighters, seeing themselves as “family.” Not a bad model for the rest of the nation in a country at war. A very interesting article written by Jacob Siegel and published in The Daily Beast.

“Most members of the “The Iraq Bikers,” as the Baghdad motorcycle club is called, ride Hondas but prefer to call them Harleys. Some have just returned from fighting against the Islamic State, formerly ISIS, in Iraq’s north where the group is entrenched. The war is tightening around all of them, those just back from it and others waiting to join the battle. At home in Baghdad they take the time they have to get together and ride.

The Iraq Bikers usually meet once a week to socialize and ride around the city, but this past Friday was special. For one thing, it was Ramadan and a number of the bikers brought their children along so they could all break the fast together in a big outing at a local restaurant. It was also almost three weeks since one of their members was killed, shot outside of his home in Baghdad. If anyone knew who was responsible for the killing—whether it was ISIS, a Shia militia, Iraq’s security forces, or one of the country’s countless other groups capable of such violence—they weren’t saying. He was a friend and he was killed and would be missed, was all they’d say.

Baghdad2Like most biker groups, this one has a special way to honor a fallen member. But in Baghdad, where violent deaths are common and loss becomes routine, the club’s memorials have been stripped of ceremony. “Our ritual is very simple,” said the group’s leader, “Captain Bilal” al Bayati: “We don’t do any shows [group rides for a public audience] for three weeks and we visit with his family.” The mourning period is almost over; if it ends without anyone else being killed they will have a show next Friday. Catpain Bilal, also called “Chief” by the other Iraq Bikers, is the club’s 34-year-old founder. “I started the group two years ago. First it was just me, then two or three people joined,” Bilal said, “then two or three more. Then I went to different parts of Baghdad to find the right people. Not just anybody can join our group.” Qualifying, as an Iraq Biker has nothing to do with family background. “Our members are from every group: Sunni, Shia, Christian, Turcoman, Kurd.” There are no hazing rituals, no violent rites of getting jumped in.

Baghdad3They see themselves as patriots, upholding the vision of Iraqi nationalism that others have abandoned or written off, but in which they still believe. Law is weak in Iraq and scarcely exists apart from violence. Throughout the country, it’s which way the gun is pointing that determines whether legal codes are threatened or upheld.  The Iraq Bikers are far from pacifists, but they have no use for the outlaw aspect of biker culture that’s proudly flaunted by other clubs throughout the world. They like the symbols of that culture, but it’s just a matter of style. “We are not a gang like bikers in other countries. Our first priority is to show that we are good people,” said Bilal. “We are a family.”

If you’re not approached to join the club you just have to ask. After a couple of months probation to see if you act right, Captain Bilal welcomes you in. Today there are something like 75 members. There is no matching uniform for the group but you can tell at a glance that they’re bikers: patched up leather vests showing the “Iraq Bikers” emblem, bandanas, wallet chains and, in one case, a long, braided ponytail, give off the international signals of biker culture. They stick out in a Baghdad crowd, but members say that causes them no problems.

“Some people say it’s not traditional,” said Ahmed, who rides a red Honda with skulls and chains affixed to it. “They say, ‘Come on, we are not in Texas!’ But we don’t have any problems,” Ahmed said. He found his bike two months ago abandoned on the street, “I worked on it and brought it back to life.” Now that the red Honda is properly outfitted with skulls and chains, it’s his bike.

Baghdad4Nabir Kadim Jasim, 40, has been riding since he was 15 and was brought up around his father’s and brother’s passion for motorcycles. “I just returned from Mosul two days ago,” Jasim said. He was there, he said, as a soldier with Hezbollah in Iraq. “I’m a sniper. We killed many ISIS there.” There is little evidence of Iraq Hezbollah’s role in the fighting in Mosul, but volunteers from Shia militias have been active in the war. “We fought in Mosul 10 days,” Jasim said, “then they sent us to Bayji to help the army liberate the refinery.” Friday’s ride through Baghdad was only a brief interlude for Jasim. He doesn’t have much time on his bike before returning to the front. He says that soon he and 50 other fighters from Hezbollah in Iraq will join up with the Iraqi army at a training camp in Baghdad, then “We will go to Anbar together to fight ISIS there.”

This could be posturing. Anbar, ISIS’s longest held stronghold in Iraq, is a Sunni-dominated region mired in intense fighting. Hezbollah in Iraq’s involvement there is unclear, but leaders from other Shia militia groups like the Mahdi Army have said that they will not go into the area to avoid being drawn into the chaos there. Of the Iraq Bikers’ 75 members, 15 are now serving as soldiers or in militias fighting in the war. “The number goes up every day,” said Captain Bilal. Weekly get-togethers give the group’s members a chance to relax and socialize while they tinker with each other’s bikes, exchange needed parts and plan their next show. But none of the members described the group as an outlet to relieve the pressure of the war or a chance to retreat into a personal escape. Along with all the motorcycle paraphernalia, many members had Iraqi flags waving from the back of their bikes as they rode, and described the group in patriotic terms.

Several weeks ago, members said, the group rode in military uniforms to show their support for the war effort and raise morale in Baghdad in the face of the threat from ISIS. “When the chaos started, some Iraqi leaders called begging us to do bike shows to give the people something to be happy about,” Captain Bilal said, “but until now we didn’t get any support from the government,” he added. There’s a novel quality to an Iraqi biker group that includes a Hezbollah fighter and a proudly non-sectarian leader, but the group embodies the passionate nationalism that many Iraqis feel. Despite the war here the constant threat of religious and ethnic conflict, and the deep fissures that could break the state apart, it’s still easy to find people in Baghdad—sheiks, shopkeepers, and bikers who are committed to Iraqi nationalism.

It’s hard to be a tough guy in Iraq, the bar is set dangerously high. The Iraqi bikers aren’t even trying. They don’t go blazing through the streets roaring their engines—too many checkpoints to even try—and they don’t look for fights with rival gangs. They have no elaborate handshakes or secret mottoes.
In a country at war, in a city where bombs rip through the streets and military checkpoints are as common as traffic lights, there’s nothing menacing about some men with skull trinkets on their bikes.

“All the countries of the world have bikers. It’s something normal for us,” Captain Bilal said. But he’s hoping for better than normal. “In September we have a show in Spain. We want to be known internationally. Already we have 10,000 likes on Facebook.” Actually, it’s more like 9,000, but hopes are high. And that’s rare in Baghdad these days.”

18 Responses to “Bikers of Baghdad. Sunnis, Shias, Skulls, Harleys and Iraqi Flags.”

  1. 1 chopmonster66 Jul 25th, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Motorcycles , the best way in the world to meet and make friends, If every one could just put away all their differances and just enjoy life , because it is to short as we already know .

  2. 2 Kirk Perry Jul 25th, 2014 at 8:47 am

    The “common thread factor” ……. still intact. 🙂

  3. 3 Racetrack Style Jul 25th, 2014 at 11:49 am

    “(air) drop motorcycles, not bombs.” …

    and the previous thousands of years of ‘killing in the name of ‘ will be forgotten.

    Stop f’in killing each other and ride

  4. 4 Blackmax Jul 25th, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Racetrack Style & chopmonster are right on !!!
    It is kind of hard to shoot somebody if your riding on a cycle alone
    Just Ride !!!!

  5. 5 B. D. Howard Jul 25th, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I assume that none of them rides a Captain America bike..

  6. 6 B. D. Howard Jul 25th, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Proof that we should send them motorcycles, not missiles!

  7. 7 paparay Jul 26th, 2014 at 8:30 am

    maybe they should have biker build off instead of shooting at each other the tribe that builds the best bike win that’s it

  8. 8 Boomer Jul 26th, 2014 at 8:32 am

    I think I learned more about Iraq from this write-up than from all the news outlets combined.

    Good to know brotherhood in the biking world is universal; even in a war torn country.

  9. 9 paparay Jul 26th, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Cyril maybe we could figure out a way to send the Xtra Parts everybody has in their garage to these guys they got my respect

  10. 10 Jul 26th, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Even War cannot stop the spirit of the bikers right?

  11. 11 Patrick Wagner Jul 26th, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Cyril raises the bar of intelligent publishing. Great feature.

  12. 12 nicker Jul 26th, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    From your lips to God’s ear.


    “… group that includes a Hezbollah fighter and a proudly non-sectarian leader, but the group embodies the passionate nationalism that many Iraqis feel. Despite the war …… it’s still easy to find people in Baghdad….. who are committed to Iraqi nationalism…”

    Now…… “IF” all that is true….. And the kids in that picture don’t get bombs strapped to-em some time in the future…… That will be a 900 year game changer.

    BUT then…!!!
    Then the problem becomes that the US Progressive Left will have to stop ragging on Bush.
    And that will be even more difficult to accomplish………. 🙂


  13. 13 hoyt Jul 28th, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Bush should be ragged on for eternity. With the invasion of Iraq, he plundered the largest, unified global support any nation has witnessed in human civilization, which started on Sept 12th 2001. Not only did he lose that global support, he left this nation in the dump. That is bush’s legacy. ALWAYS will be.

  14. 14 James just another Crazy Kiwi Jul 28th, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Shit guys !! did the Wino’s crew not just have a shoot out with the Booze Fighters and the Iron odor just killed a Black Piston. O wait and then there was the Heathens and the outlaws this last weekend.

    Yep real peaceful

    And from over here everyone agrees with Hoyt , the Goofy Child president left the USA with a very bad rep around the world.
    Sorry but from the outside this is how it looks.

  15. 15 DOUGZ Custom Jul 28th, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Great comments by Hoyt and James just another Crazy Kiwi…??? – We all read an article by Cyril that sends a message of hope that maybe SOMEDAY there will be peace in this world, then a couple of completely idiotic remarks based on political bullshit have to come in and turn a very enlightening article into a septic tank of right wing / left wing garbage. Its people like you two jackasses that KEEP our world in the constant turmoil that it is in. I don’t think Bush was the best POTUS and I certainly don’t think our current administration is doing a bang up job either, but it is up to the citizens of this country to work together, like the Iraqi Bikers are doing, to turn things around in this country. Spewing sewage from your keyboards does NOTHING towards that end. I guess the thing that most people who read Cyril’s blog probably understand is when respondents use a ‘handle’ for their name because they lack the stones to use their actual name, it sends a pretty clear message that they do it just to see their ‘handle’ on Cyril’s blog and in their make-believe world they have contributed something worthwhile…

  16. 16 James just another Crazy Kiwi Jul 28th, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Doug I don’t’ do politics I am only an observer and stating what I see.

    Sorry If it hurt but If you check out other comments you will understand why I stated the obvious.

  17. 17 Sportster Mike Jul 29th, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Sounds a bit like Northern Ireland…

    One of the hardcore biker clubs over there said they never had any bother from either side; the UVF or the IRA as they told both sides that they were Bikers first and foremost, not Catholic of Protestant….

    So along with the Jews they were the only other lot not to be troubled during the ‘Troubles’

  18. 18 nicker Jul 30th, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Spot on Sportster Mike,

    Thanks for the Irish Biker perspective.
    Sounds like the Reality of what it means to be a Self-sufficient, Capable, and Independent Biker.

    There was plenty the Bushy Boy “..should be ragged on for eternity…”
    Most prominently the fact that he had no qualms about squandering other people’s money.
    Most notably for trying to buy his way into being “Liked” by morons such as Teddy “the-swimmer” Kennedy.

    But when you saw the images of Afghan kids finally being able to go back to school, listen to music, and fly kites…. And then ya listen to the Baghdad Biker’s story……. I’m not gonna fault him for that.

    If this blog is for Bikers…… Real Bikers, not weekend worriers, who recognizing how Freedom works know the difference between Reality and “…political bullshit …”

    And those of us who’s families lived the Fascist and Communist repression of WW-II Europe and then legally immigrated to this great country know the difference between a Leader and a Poser.


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Cyril Huze