No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

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Members of the Iraq Bikers, the first Iraqi biker group, gather next to their motorbikes on a street of Baghdad, Iraq December 28, 2018. Picture taken December 28, 2018. (Reuters)
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Members of the Iraq Bikers, the first Iraqi biker group, ride their motorbikes on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq December 28, 2018. Picture taken December 28, 2018. (Reuters)
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Members of the Iraq Bikers, the first Iraqi biker group, gather outside a cafe in Baghdad, Iraq December 28, 2018. Picture taken December 28, 2018. (Reuters)
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Members of the Iraq Bikers, the first Iraqi biker group, ride their motorbikes on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq December 28, 2018. Picture taken December 28, 2018. (Reuters)
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A member of the Iraq Bikers, the first Iraqi biker group, poses for a photograph before riding his motorbike on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq December 28, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 20 January 2019

No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

  • That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics
  • The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths

BAGHDAD: Roaring along Baghdad’s highways, the “Iraq Bikers” are doing more than showing off their love of outsized motorcycles and black leather: they want their shared enthusiasm to help heal Iraq’s deep sectarian rifts.
Weaving in and out of traffic, only the lucky few ride Harley Davidsons — a rare and expensive brand in Iraq — while others make do with bikes pimped-up to look something like the “Easy Rider” dream machines.
“Our goal is to build a brotherhood,” said Bilal Al-Bayati, 42, a government employee who founded the club in 2012 with the aim of improving the image of biker gangs and to promote unity after years of sectarian conflict.
That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics.
“It is absolutely prohibited to talk politics among members,” Bayati told Reuters as he sat with fellow bikers in a shisha cafe, a regular hangout for members.
“Whenever politics is mentioned, the members are warned once or twice and then expelled. We no longer have the strength to endure these tragedies or to repeat them,” he said, referring to sectarian violence.
With his black bandana and goatee, the leader of the Baghdad pack, known as “Captain,” looks the epitome of the American biker-outlaw.
But while their style is unmistakably US-inspired — at least one of Bayati’s cohorts wears a helmet emblazoned with the stars and stripes — these bikers fly the Iraqi flag from the panniers of their machines.
The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths. One of their most recent events was taking party in Army Day celebrations.
Some are in the military, the police and even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a grouping of mostly Shiite militias which have taken part in the fight to oust Islamic State from Iraq in the last three years.
“It is a miniature Iraq,” said member Ahmed Haidar, 36, who works with an international relief agency.
But riding a chopper through Baghdad is quite different from Route 101. The bikers have to slow down at the many military checkpoints set up around the city to deter suicide and car bomb attacks.
And very few can afford a top bike.
“We don’t have a Harley Davidson franchise here,” said Kadhim Naji, a mechanic who specializes in turning ordinary motorbikes into something special.
“So what we do is we alter the motorbike, so it looks similar ... and it is cheaper.”


Police raid K-pop agency over alleged illegal gambling

Updated 17 August 2019

Police raid K-pop agency over alleged illegal gambling

  • Yang Hyun-suk founder and ex-chief producer of YG Entertainment, resigned after drug and sex scandals rocked the company
  • Local news reports said Yang was alleged to have engaged in ‘habitual and illegal gambling’

SEOUL: South Korean police raided one of the biggest K-pop management firms on Saturday as part of an investigation into music mogul Yang Hyun-suk’s alleged illicit gambling.
Yang, founder and ex-chief producer of YG Entertainment, resigned from his post in June after drug and sex scandals rocked the company since March.
He was placed under formal investigation by police earlier this week over allegations of gambling involving illicit cash exchange along with Seungri, a former member of YG’s highly popular band BIGBANG.
“We are trying to gather evidence on how (Yang) secured funds for gambling, and how many times the alleged gambling took place,” a Seoul police officer told AFP.
Local news reports said Yang was alleged to have engaged in “habitual and illegal gambling,” in locations including Macau and Las Vegas since the early 2000s.
Yang was also separately placed under investigation by police last month for allegedly arranging sex services for foreign investors back in 2014.
A member of the popular boy band Seo Tae Ji and Boys in the 1990s, Yang developed YG into a K-pop powerhouse with the success of idol groups such as BIGBANG and BLACKPINK.
The firm is now considered one of South Korea’s top three entertainment agencies alongside SM and JYP, and was behind the 2012 mega hit “Gangnam Style” by Psy that helped raise K-pop’s global profile.
But it has been in hot water since Yang and some of its stars were implicated in a spate of scandals.
Seungri, whose real name is Lee Seung-hyun, retired in March after being accused of arranging sex services for potential investors in his business.
In June, fellow YG artist Kim Han-bin, a member of boyband iKon, left the group amid allegations he had bought illegal drugs three years ago — in a case Yang is also accused of trying to cover up.
Earlier this year, a building owned by another YG star Daesung also came under investigation over an allegation that four of its tenants were involved with illicit sex and drug businesses.