Another Year of Living Misery in Baghdad

Baghdad residents lined up for water Monday during a three-day drought caused when insurgents blew up a pipeline.
Baghdad residents lined up for water Monday during a three-day drought caused when insurgents blew up a pipeline. (By Faleh Kheiber -- Reuters)
By Andy Mosher and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 24, 2005

BAGHDAD, June 23 -- In the streets of Baghdad, people wondered Thursday what else could possibly go wrong.

In Karrada, a commercial district across the Tigris River from the city's fortified Green Zone, wreckage was still smoldering hours after four car bombs exploded shortly after dawn, killing 17 people and wounding 20. Water sprayed on the resulting fires commingled in pools with blood. On the north side of the city, in Shuala -- like Karrada, an area populated mostly by Shiite Muslims -- similar scenes played out in the wake of a triple car bombing that had killed 15 people the night before.

Around Baghdad, neighborhoods were celebrating the return of running water but still lamenting the three-day drought caused when insurgents ruptured a water line north of the city.

And with the temperature exceeding 100 degrees, as it has every day for weeks, people voiced anger at the prospect of spending their third summer since the U.S.-led invasion with only intermittent electricity. Those with generators will be able to power air conditioners and other appliances; the rest will simply bake.

"So many problems are happening in the city," said Mohammed Sarhan, 50, a grocer in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora. "Where do I start -- water, electricity, security, unemployment or health?"

"This is not a life," Sarhan added. "This is hell."

A gathering of representatives from more than 80 countries and organizations in Brussels on Wednesday was marked by statements of support for Iraq and announcements of programs to assist the country's nearly five-month-old interim government. The conference had been billed in large part as that government's debut on the world stage and an opportunity for its leaders to lay out their plans to rebuild the country.

In Baghdad, however, the government's performance was repeatedly cited in interviews as one of the many disappointing aspects of a year that began with promise. Elections on Jan. 30 drew large numbers of voters to the polls despite the threat of insurgent violence. But formal installation of a government and formation of a committee to write Iraq's next constitution were delayed for months, and efforts to bring more Sunni Muslim Arabs into the process after they boycotted the elections continue to sputter.

"We sacrificed our souls and went out to vote. What did we get? Simply nothing," said Karima Sadoun, 56, as she stopped to buy vegetables at a shop in the eastern Baghdad district of Ghadir.

In another eastern neighborhood, Bashar Hanna, 30, said: "We need action, not speeches. . . . Iraqis now are like a car stuck in the mud. Whenever this car wants to get out of the mud, it sticks more in the crater it created."

While the on-again, off-again power supply is not new to Baghdad, it is no less maddening than in past summers, residents said. Statistics for May and June are not yet available, but the amount of electricity generated in the capital decreased steadily through February, March and April even as nationwide supplies rose, according to State Department figures. Baghdad's daily average of 854 megawatts in April was scarcely more than a third of the city's estimated prewar output of 2,500 megawatts a day.

Sarhan, the grocer, said the power shortages were affecting sales. "Not too many people come and buy from me, because they don't have electricity," he said. "They don't have a place to keep what they buy."

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