Freerunners find their feet in Baghdad

Story highlights

  • Prince Haydar is one of Baghdad's exponents of parkour
  • Freerunning in Iraq's capital is dangerous, he says, and freerunners often misunderstood
  • Baghdad Pk group often trains in Zawra park, near city's fomer Green Zone
  • Members are self-taught and rely on internet videos to learn new techniques

Leaping from rooftops and doing backflips off walls is when Prince Haydar feels the most free.

The 25-year-old from Baghdad is one of the city's small band of freerunners, who take every opportunity to practice parkour in a city striving for normality and currently facing a resurgence of deadly violence.

"When I do parkour, I get rid of all the scattered thoughts in my head and empty all the anger from inside me," said Haydar.

From the streets of Paris in the 1990s, where parkour was first popularized, to Zawra park in Iraq's capital, freerunning has become a global phenomenon. The sport evolved from French military training and involves running through urban environments using only the body to overcome obstacles and objects.

In Baghdad, the challenges are even greater than in other cities. Haydar says his fellow freerunners have to contend with a public unsure of what to make of a group running and leaping through the city's largest public park. There is also the threat of bomb attacks and indiscriminate violence in the city.

"It is dangerous and it is difficult to practice parkour anywhere," he says. "Sometimes we are exposed to arrested or misunderstanding from some people and there is the deteriorating security situation."

But despite these challenges, Haydar is committed to improving in his sport, and teaching its benefits to others. He was first turned on to freerunning in 2007 when he watched the film "District B13" that featured parkour in many of its stunt sequences. Inspired, he sought out internet clips of the sport in order to learn parkour techniques.

"We are a small group of young people and there are no parkour classes," he says, noting that the group -- aged between 18 and 25 -- support and teach each other, going as far as pooling their money to rent a gym.

"It's small and does not meet the purpose," he says. "It's very far from our homes, but despite of all these difficult circumstances we go."

"I love parkour because this sport is the art of movement and freedom and this art has made me know true freedom in this difficult life."

      Inside the Middle East

    • Aquaventure was expanded in 2013 to include a Leap of Faith ride that passes through a shark-filled aquarium. Visitors can swim in a manmade lagoon filled with marine animals.

      Theme park dreams

      Robot dinosaurs, Lego men and Spider-Man all could become Dubai's newest residents.
    • Al Nassma is the first camel milk chocoalte company in the world. The Dubai-based company had gone global, and Al Nassma products are carried in high-end department stores around the world, including London's Selfridges.

      Getting over the hump

      Not long ago camel milk was an unfancied staple, the preserve of Bedouin herders. Now its becoming a luxury.
    • Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, 'House of God' that Muslims believe was built by Abraham 4,000 years ago, on September 30, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers started pouring into the holy city for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. This year's Hajj comes as the authorities strive to protect pilgrims from two deadly viruses, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus or MERS

      Hi-tech Hajj

      Managing over 2 million people during the Hajj takes some serious technology.
    • Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia compete's as one of only two women from the country at the London Olympic Games.

      On the right track?

      More needs to be done so women from Saudi Arabia can become world champions in sports.
    • Micro stories magnified

      The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
    • Super-sizing airports

      Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.