Saturday, October 18, 2003

Covering the Turkish embassy suicide car bombing Tuesday was pretty straightforward except for a military spokesman insisting only two people had been injured while witnesses and TV reports said as many as eight were hurt. I walked through the college campus immediately next door and there was shattered glass everywhere, bits of rubber tire and, according to a security guard, human remains on the roof. Soldiers roped off the scene, keeping reporters away from the embassy and making it feel less chaotic than I expected. The attack wasn’t as deadly as the Baghdad Hotel bombing two days earlier, but for many Iraqis, it was further proof that the Americans don’t understand Iraq (Turkish troops in Iraq?) and that they can’t protect them.

The next day, a yellow crane was parked outside our hotel and a notice in the lobby said a three-meter high concrete barrier would be erected around the al-Hamra. By Saturday, reporters were joking about the three narrow sections of concrete standing at one corner of the parking lot, about enough to protect a Honda Civic parked immediately behind it. We’re trying to check rumors that there’s a shortage of concrete barriers because a company in Kirkuk has the local monopoly on them.

I’ve been here a week now, and it seems that from an electricity-garbage-traffic point of view Baghdad is better than when I left at the end of June. Iraqis still go hours without electricity, sewage still runs down the street in poorer neighborhoods and traffic is still brutal on Saturdays (the start of the workday week here) but most Iraqis I’ve talked to say these things are better than before. There are reports that the curfew may be lifted completely in a week's time. More shops are open later in the evening in the busy Karada neighborhood and merchants like Mudhafir Abdul Majeed Fatohi, who owns five electronics shops, say business is about 70% of what it was before the war.

“Every month is better than the previous month,’’ said Fatohi, 52 and a mechanical engineer with papers that allow him to do business in Sweden and Jordan.

But from a security point of view, it’s obviously much worse. Not only have there been more roadside bombs and suicide bombings, but Shia on Shia violence has escalated and the fear of carjackings and kidnappings is higher than ever. A radical cleric who is complicating the new Governing Council's job by pushing his own new government is suspected as the driving force behind several of the latest bombings. Women continue to be shuttered in their homes because of these fears, although sometimes this is the result of an overprotective husband more worried about other men looking at his wife. My driver’s wife Tagreed is begging her husband to let her work, go back to school or at least go outside to socialize with other women. But so far, Hassan has refused. It was different before the war, when criminal gangs did not roam the streets, both of them say.