Every evening at 5 p.m., Baghdad Central Station fills with travelers. Excited chitter-chatter echoes off the old stone walls as passengers rush to buy last-minute snacks before the long journey ahead. But as soon as the engine fades away, it all goes quiet again. The 5 p.m. to Basra is the only train that leaves from this grand station.
Ali Al-Karkhi, a conductor based at the station for the last 37 years, remembers busier days. “Even Agatha Christie wrote about Baghdad’s station,” he tells me, referring to the 1951 novel They Came to Baghdad. He is dressed in a steam-pressed, pristine driver’s uniform, an act of defiance in the baking summer heat. “When I die, I want people to remember how I never faltered in any of my work at the station. I want them to remember how much history I studied about Iraq’s trains.”