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Iraqi lawmakers consider a controversial law that would ban smoking in public places.

New York Times

BAGHDAD - In a country where the power blinks out several times a day, where filling up a gas tank can take hours and motorists stew in seemingly endless traffic jams, smoking is one thing that seems blissfully easy.

A pack of cigarettes costs as little as 25 cents. They are sold from mud-brick huts along highways, from card tables set up on city sidewalks and at countless storefronts throughout Baghdad. And you can light up pretty much anywhere, from buses to elevators to hospitals. Even (or especially) inside the Iraqi Parliament.

But following the lead of scores of other Western cities, Iraqi lawmakers are now trying to push smoking to the margins of public life here, to the frustration of many of their constituents.

On Sunday, they are set to consider a law that would ban smoking from schools, universities, government offices and a range of private businesses, including restaurants and cafes. Billboards advertising cigarettes, which wallpaper commercial districts of Baghdad, would be outlawed. And cigarette companies would be forced to print harsher warning labels.

"This is an important issue," said Jawad al-Bazouni, a member of Parliament's Health Committee, which is pushing for the restrictions. "The citizen can complain to the smoker. He will get the law on his side, and it will be reflected in the public health."

But some Iraqis called Parliament's effort a waste of time by a legislature that has dithered on questions of greater import, like whether U.S. troops should be allowed to stay past a withdrawal deadline of January.

The prospects for passage of the tobacco ban are, well, cloudy, at best.

In the six months since competing factions quilted together a partnership government, Iraq's Parliament has passed about 10 laws, none of them highly controversial.

Through this, Iraq's leaders have moved slowly on resolving the status of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, an oil-rich prize that is one of Iraq's biggest trouble spots. They have not named ministers to lead the army and police forces, leaving a vacuum that Iraqis blame for a recent spike in assassinations and other violence.

"There are more important issues they should be considering," said Aboud al-Dulaimi, who was sitting with two friends outside a hookah bar in downtown Baghdad.