'We Are Living A Disaster'
By Dhar Jamail
The cold winter winds sweep over Baghdad and the refugee camps strewn about the city. Date palms sway as dust blows down the clogged streets where people huddle in their cars while waiting in petrol lines several miles long.
The cost of fuel now in the black market is 10 times what it normally is, and people either pay it or wait for 8 hours in a gas line, with no guarantee that the station of their choice won't run dry before they get a chance to fill their tank.
Traffic jams form often when military patrols rumble down the streetcars stacked up behind them, nobody daring to venture too close to the heavy machine guns wielded by soldiers with their faces covered by goggles and masks. Already today 2 soldiers were killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb in the northwest section of the capital. Also, up near Kut in eastern Iraq, another soldier was killed and two wounded in a "vehicle accident."
The fuel crisis is driving the cost of everything up-vegetables, fruit, meat, you name it.
"We are living a disaster," says Abu Abdulla, an unemployed engineer at a kebob stand today near the so-called green zone, "The price for benzene is 10 times now what it was on the black market, but there are 10 times less jobs and who is making 10 times as much money?"
Another man drinking chai nearby immediately starts talking about the resistance. "They think destroying Fallujah will stop the resistance? We already see the resistance spreading everywhere now," he says, his cigarette waving about in the air, "Even if they bomb every city in Iraq, the resistance will continue to spread."
While Iraq appears to be conveniently slipping off the radar of the mainstream media, the failed occupation continues to grind on towards an end which nobody here can see.
Everywhere I go the signs of a society in decline abound. Even at a clinic where I had to go in order to obtain an HIV test to extend my visa, there is a telling event.
A doctor walks in and asks the nurse who is taking my blood what she does with the used needles. "We sterilize them after use then they are incinerated," she replies. He waves his hand back and forth while telling her, "No more. We are now instructed by the Ministry of Environment there are no facilities for this, so we are to sterilize them and reuse them."
We finish and walk outside, passing the Kalashnikov wielding guards (which are in front of nearly every building in Baghdad), fight our way through some traffic then try to find some black market petrol. We run out during our futile seeking-there are even less black marketers as the shortage grows more severe by the day.
Abut Talat explains in frustration how his son drove his car too much last night as he pulls his plastic jug and siphon tube from the trunk. We nervously watch cars pass while waiting to grab a couple of liters from someone hoping for a fuel handout rather than a kidnapping.
Finally amidst this desperate fuel shortage a generous couple pulls over and give us some of the precious liquid and we're off to get scalped at the black market.
Driving over a bridge near the so-called green zone I spot a building with missile holes in it-a gutted reminder, one of many, of the invasion nearly 2 years ago. The same propaganda banner for the US-backed al-Iraqia TV network hangs in the usual place-right where an old propaganda banner for Saddam Hussein once hung.
It hasn't changed since I first photographed it last year. "The can't work on that building," says Abu Talat, "Because they are afraid the workers will be resistance spies, because from the top of that building you can see everything in the green zone."
Apache helicopters rumble low over the city, their "whumping" blades leaving wakes of car alarms through the streets.
Back at my hotel I indulge my daily ritual of asking the owner if I have hot water yet. The cold showers are getting old now that the temperature has dropped and it remains chilly.
This morning I was awakened by the usual 7am gun battles nearby. They usually coincide with the morning mortar ritual of blasts hitting the so-called green zone.
Now. as I type this evening, a huge explosion rattles my walls. A gun battle with heavy automatic weapons kicks off down the street, and the usual wailing sirens of ambulances and Iraqi Police begin blaring across the city-streaming in this direction.
c. 2004 Dahr Jamail.
More writing, photos and commentary at http://dahrjamailiraq.com