Sunday, June 08, 2003

It’s hard to imagine what life was like before email and high-speed connections. Haven’t filed a weblog in ages because it’s now so excruciatingly slow and expensive to get online using a Thuraya phone. Even if our laptops connect to the Thuraya satellite, the directions from the satellite to an internet address are breaking down or getting lost. For more than a week, no URLS worked except a numerical one for my Mercury news email and even that was spotty at best. It takes at least an hour to open less than a handful of emails and reply to half of them. Of all the challenges of working here, and there are many, this is probably the most maddening.

The other day, we spent four hours in traffic trying to get to a hospital that was only 20 minutes away. Each day, we drive around trying to find people we need to interview, often leaving messages trying to set up appointments to talk another time and then get back to the hotel to discover there is a press conference scheduled for the same time as our appointment. Internet cafes are beginning to open, but phone service is not yet back up.

Iraq news seems to have faded from the front pages at home but soldiers are still getting attacked here and Iraqis are increasingly frustrated with the inability of the Americans to provide basic security and electricity. At background briefings we are told that electricity has been restored to most of Baghdad and that with the increasing numbers of troops and military police and the disarmament campaign it’s getting safer in Baghdad each day. But the Iraqis we meet and interview as well as the translators and drivers we work with provide a different barometer. And then there is the issue of their pay. Salaries from April, May and June are to be paid by the end of this month or early July, but thousands of ex-Army soldiers who have been told they won’t get their jobs back because of their links to the old regime have threatened violence unless they are rehired or given pensions.

Reporters here seem divided on whether things will get worse before they will get better. There was more violence in Falluja on Friday, which the military again attributed to “pockets of resistance” rather than fed-up Iraqis. All for now.