Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
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IRAQ: The nation's oldest mailman

May 2, 2009 |  9:20 am


Ridha Mohammed Ali Qabbani, 68, is the oldest mailman in Iraq. Yes, Iraq still has a postal service, though it is now a shadow of what it used to be.

Qabbani has been delivering mail in Baghdad since he was 17 and has never stopped. Not when the monarchy was overthrown in 1958, not during the coups of the 1960s and '70s, not during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when he was the only link between soldiers fighting on the front and their loved ones anxiously awaiting news to prove they were still alive.

When Saddam Hussein fell from power and the government collapsed, Qabbani kept working without a salary. When the city disintegrated into sectarian strife and explosions became a daily occurrence, he carried on, though he often had to curtail his route to avoid areas controlled by insurgents.

He's still delivering mail on the same trusty bicycle he has used for the last 51 years. These days people are more likely to send e-mails or text messages than write letters, and most of his work entails handing over electricity and telephone bills, which have made an unwelcome reappearance now that the government has reconstituted itself.

Family members have repeatedly urged him to retire and enjoy a relaxing old age, but he refuses. "I love my job, and I will continue until I die," he says.

— Raheem Salman in Baghdad

Photo: Ridha Mohammed Ali Qabbani, 68, has been delivering mail since he was 17. Credit: Raheem Salman / Los Angeles Times