BAGHDAD – A bright yellow three-wheeled tuk tuk careens out of the rioting crowd with gunfire crackling in the air and black smoke swirling up into the horizon.
Volunteers in red tabards hoist an injured protester out of the back of the cart and carry him into a waiting ambulance. It’s a chaotic rescue, Baghdad style, during a week-long uprising that has turned streets of Iraq’s capital into a battlefield.
More than 110 people have been killed and 6,000 wounded in the uprising, the worst violence since the Islamic State caliphate was crushed two years ago. Reuters journalists have witnessed snipers killing and wounding protesters by firing into crowds from rooftops.
Protesters say that with crowds packed tightly into the streets, ambulances either can’t reach the victims or become targets themselves for snipers.
So tuk tuk drivers, who normally make their living weaving through traffic, have stepped into the breach, plunging headlong down streets to pick up people in harm.
“We take the injured. There are no ambulances. The ambulance heads into the protest and never comes back,” said Karrar, the driver of the yellow tuk tuk who raced back into the crowd for another rescue.
“They are killing the injured right in the ambulances. We take the injured and we take them to the hospital. Here they are shooting at us and we are peaceful protesters, no weapons and nothing.”
As protesters fled teargas, another driver steered his red tuk tuk into the melee, gunfire crackling overhead.
“We take the wounded, we are helping these poor protesters. Now they are shooting them. We take them and bring them back. God willing we will be victorious,” Karrar said.