Features

The Drifting Competitions in the Former ISIS Stronghold of Mosul

ISIS banned the sport for three years, but now the city is liberated young people are using it to kick-start a cultural revolution.

by Mustafa Sadoun
24 May 2018, 1:09pm

All photos by Mustafa Sadoun

This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia

Every week, against the backdrop of a semi-abandoned neighbourhood that was largely destroyed by ISIS, a weekly tafheet (drifting) competition is held in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

The cars are old, and the only marking on the course is a small tyre that acts as the focal point for drivers to drift around. The venue is about half the size of a football pitch, flanked by a small pebbled mound where spectators stand to watch the competition. On the edge of the square, around ten cars line up waiting to drift in front of a crowd that includes fans who have driven hours just to be here.

After ISIS took control of Mosul in 2014, the terrorist group banned the popular sport; people caught drifting had their driving licences taken away. But ever since the city was liberated, in July of 2017, young people have organised meet-ups here every Friday – one of the many signs that a city that was almost 80 percent destroyed in some areas is slowly rebuilding its cultural life.

Driver Sinan Adel, 29, helped establish the competition and says he now wants to push it out to more cities across Iraq. "We're working with groups from across the country to set up similar events in as many places as we can," he tells me. "We want to show the world that young people in Mosul and Iraq are culturally active. It also helps us feel like we're not isolated from the rest of the world. All we need now from the government is a proper stadium."

But as it stands, Sinan and his friends are on their own. There are no sponsors or prizes, and they don't charge an admission fee. All the money they spend on the cars and the races comes out of their own pockets.

For Salem Ahmad, 26, drifting is just a hobby. He says he enjoys hanging around the track "maintaining the cars and fixing up the engines and tyres to the drivers' preferences". But the competition probably won't stay low-key for much longer.

Recently, the event has started attracting crowds from outside the city. Hani Hadi, 28, who lives in Dohuk – a city around 50 miles from Mosul, near the Turkish border – tells me that he and his friends drive down to Mosul every Friday just to watch.

"We fill up around ten cars from Dohuk and head to Mosul," he explains. "We don't have anything like this in our city. But when we eventually do, it'll be because of young people."

Salem Ahmad
Sinan Adel