Monday, August 23, 2004

Visited Today Ain Qasr and Ain Soda (Azraq Marsh)

Off at 8 am, on a jaunt down the Baghdad highway, into the Jordanian panhandle. We trundle through the city into and through the house furnishings souk: rolls of linoleum stacked against sleeping windows; parking lots lined with velvet-upholstered furniture. Out past Ain Gazal, where I am told Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age horse burials inhabited limestone caves above the spring. Through the industrial district of Zarka, choked with smog; lined with vehicle graveyards that escalate from diminutive taxis to rusting semi tractors, the latter incongruously piled on rooftops. The highway is lined with trucks, truckers, truck traffic: a free zone with tarp-covered trailer loads of every make and model; then fuel tankers in line after line.

Main destination today is the Azraq wetlands: once vast marshes; maybe continuously so since the Pleistocene, fed by aquifers seeping from beneath the Druze mountains. Vast tracts outside the marsh are demarcated into lines and squares by piles of basalt stone. Within these censurations sprawl Bedouin encampments, brown burlap tents fluttering in the wind, the livestock off grazing the thin pasturage somewhere out of view. Aquifer pumping has so lowered the water table that exposed peat is cracking and sloughing off. The Royal Water Authority diverts 10% of water back into the wetland to maintain a small fraction of its former extent. The fringe of palms with tamarisk are reminiscent of Borrego Springs or Ocotillo Wells, although, if left ungrazed, the surrounding countryside would revert to salt scrub, not cactus desert.

Reed brakes choke the open water—water buffalo keep patches of open water open. The springs are divided by an Umayyad wall designed to keep the salt from fresh water during medieval times. apparently one end had stone arches carved in animal reliefs, including elephant. A current rehabilitation project is adding a second pool system. The water buffalo are also a nuisance, damaging fencing and nets designed to protect fringe pools during rehabilitation. The reed is hard to identify—heavily cut over, it has dwarfed. Phragmites? It does not seem to be dense or tough enough to be Arundo. Staff poured us honey-sweetened tea in little glasses, then off we wandered through the brakes to an adobe observation hut overlooking a (literally) bucolic wallow. Happy, happy water buffalo.

Then north through Azraq itself—a two-dinar tire repair; shops catering to the highway trade bedecked with plush and plaster and plastic Tweety Pies (do people here even know of Sylvester and Tweety Pie?), because every trucker in the world must take presents home to his kids. One wonders: is it plush for girls, plastic for boys, and plaster for the garden? Cascades of nuts and seeds and spices and tins of olive oil; cheeses in oil; halvah and tahini. The road into town crosses onto the basalt fields sharply as crossing a watered pitch, past a series of once grand, now abandoned guest houses, and then suddenly looms the black blocks of Azraq castle: Lawrence's wartime HQ with its two-ton solid granite door.

Onward to Amman, the southern road, through horizon-wide pebble plains, trackless and capped with desert varnish, grazed clean of any puff of chaff. Along a long-dry wadi lies Qasr Amra—a little Umayyad bubble with its touristic roadway sign, as for a stagecoach inn along the Butterfield stage. Concrete cones, a meter high, run parallel awhile: these are markers along the old Mandate track to Baghdad. We careen behind, through, alongside truck convoys ferrying limestone nodules the size of squashed Volkswagens to facing-tile plants around the city. Qasr Kharanah, foursquare, turreted, heads a second wadi, overviewing an Epipaleolithic tell.

Dust devils boil past flocks of desolate sheep, fed from trucked-out grain; watered by tankers, but nonetheless allowed to graze to scorched earth any seed that dares germinate under the moisture-sapping wind. We pass a truck overtopped with green—cattail? reed? Headed toward the sheep camps.

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Amman: Computing Days and Breezy Nights

We've had a large new IBM instructional computing lab installed here at ACOR (American Center for Oriental Research), where basic computing, internet connectivity, and how to access archival and research sites is taught evenings after lectures. Spent the day troubleshooting, upgrading, and updating: all the behind the scenes back office tech support more-or-less taken for granted at home institutions. It's a great addition to regional instructional capacity: we'll probably use it again in the Fall for librarianship training (here, because the library, and librarians, are well-ordered and well-trained) in online cataloguing, circulation, and reference.

Had a glorious evening up the hill, at the classy British equivalent of ACOR (in their new building). Stunning time up on the roof: view of the city, fireworks in the hills, muezzin, sunset, windy, cool night, music, even a wedding going on down below (and still going on). Everything we imagine a wonderful time in the Middle East to be. Several Californians; lots of mutual acquaintances. Heaven, in fact.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Land before Baghdad


The air for the flight out yesterday was stunningly clear, lending to pensive consideration of landscape, agriculture, and the land before Baghdad. I'll update this post later with a more descriptive account.

Arrived uneventfully to bustling Amman, to glorious weather. Cool, breezy, and clear. Second Session of our Summer Workshops is well underway, with participants ever more actively engaged. Roger Matthews has joined the teaching faculty for these last few weeks. (See our website for the full course list).

It was amazingly soothing to hear traffic late in the evenings: a sudden return to normal street life.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Bugging Out


If all goes well, phones and internet will be turned on at Baghdad U. as of next Saturday, so that we can finish troubleshooting before the fall quarter begins.

Things were quiet last night, except for another football victory interlude—largely thanks to a curfew preventing movement between the most troubled districts and the rest of the city. However, with the very noisy national congress in session, discretion is the better part of valor. It’s back to Amman for me, for now.

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Fierce Fighting, Fierce Hope

Email up, but Blogger’s been down all day. Fierce fighting near the Medical College. Windows rattling on and off for three days. Mortars falling in residential neighborhoods everywhere. Security guards posted everywhere. Daytime curfews have shut down transportation between city districts.

But good news nevertheless: things are reported as quiet in Mosul. More work has managed to limp along, and I’m told that back at Stony brook the Grayson library sort is nearly complete. I cannot describe the courage exhibited every day, day after day, by those around me. There is great hope and promise in this country yet.

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Saturday, August 14, 2004

Deaf, Dumb, Blind, and Tense


The U.S. server on which our internet access depends has been inaccessible all day, leaving me feeling deaf, dumb, and blind. Tense, tense, tense: everything and everyone is tense. I spent the day twiddling with a PowerPoint presentation showing some of our progress. I’ll try to post it to the site once we get re-connected.

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Friday, August 13, 2004

Combat Football and the Late Show


In the course of a workday, life seems pretty normal. Office, email, meetings, more email, write a bit, more meetings, more email. Outside, traffic flows; shops bustle. It’s been a week of tension, all through the city; all through the country, but you only really know that, here, by noticing irregularities. Someone returns from Amman, overland. They’re extraordinarily bright. Smiles, laughs, and a fevered gleam that comes from extraordinary relief at arriving safely. The there’s the meetings. Too many. With too many people. Behind closed doors. Closing time is prompt. Windows and doors are shuttered early. No one is allowed to walk anywhere alone.

And you know things are coming to a head; that things will get worse before they get better, when the helicopters start thundering overhead, on their way to the next round of mischief and misery, for one side, or another, or both. You know the mischief has indeed begun, with fierce intensity, when blaring horns weave their way through traffic at double the average speed. On their heels come sirens: first police, then ambulance. And you know that the ambulances are in response to fighting somewhere, because they blare everywhere, in every direction, heading for every hospital in the city.

But all of this happens with a bizarre sort of time lag, betwixt the hours when you know things are happening far out of view, that may one day affect your day-to-day work, and some mention—sometimes any mention—on the TV news. First there’s a murmur on the street. ‘It’s bad.” What’s bad? “We just need to get home. It’s bad today.” Yet all around, traffic beeps, shops bustle; a virtual parade of watermelons are carried down the street from the fruit stand. Two days later we see film footage of the extent of the fighting; the hundreds or thousands (hard to tell) demonstrating in the streets in some far-off neighborhood.

Thursday night was exceptionally bizarre in this regard. All was normalcy: the shops, the traffic, the bustle of loading docks. All was awry: the brightness, the meetings, the walk home; the gunships, the horns, the sirens. Then silence. Then cheerful sounds of a Friday evening get-together next door: laughter, clinking glasses, a blaring TV. A game of some kind. The rising and falling cheers of (I’m guessing) a football match. A happy evening. I was lulled to sleep.

I awoke to discover that, instincts intact, I’d just hit the floor behind cover, as a roar of gunfire engulfed the city. It volleyed; it rolled; it thundered; it erupted from beneath my very balcony. Shouting erupted with it, from every direction: hundreds, it seemed thousands, of--of cheers? And fans screaming GOAL!!!!? I realized that I’d been jolted from sleep by—a winning side in a soccer match? Yes! Iraq defeats Portugal! Securing a place in the Olympics! The gunfire was deafening. It grew in intensity. It swept eastward, then westward, then eastward again. Then in a staccato riff on dueling banjos or howling coyotes, distant burps were answered by local reports. As it began to fade, I could once again hear my neighbors clearly—unconcerned, laughing and clinking and happy. I became extraordinarily bright myself. I climbed sheepishly from the floor.

But what goes up, must come down. The velocity of a bullet, having reached the apex of its trajectory, and falling once again to the ground, is the same as it was when it left the muzzle of the rifle, discharged into the sky. Following the jubilation, came a different kind of rifle fire. More pointed. Single shots. With a different kind of shouting. Angry shouting. Angry fire. Some of it from directly beneath my window. Then silence. Then horns. Then sirens. Then, finally, a less easy quiet, with night watchmen milling like disturbed ants on the street. Finally, relief, and, in the wee hours, sleep.

So it came as no surprise to hear on the morning news—having caught up at last with the wind—that fighting in Sadr City had been fierce on Thursday, with scattered fighting thoughout the city. What did shock was the news of a British journalist kidnapped in Basra, abducted from his very hotel room on the very football evening. I spent my Friday alternately doing normal things: a bit of email, a bit of washing up, a bit of writing—with plotting exit strategies and contemplating some security meetings of my own for Saturday morning. Then, in the afternoon, four explosions rattled our windows—about half a mile away, I should think. Then sirens. Then helicopters. And then an evening movie on the tele. And now the waiting, for the news delay, that will tell me what has been.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Combat Archaeology


One might well ask what fighting in Sadr City and Najaf has to do with archaeology. Nothing. Everything.

Nothing, at the moment, in that it is physically happening far from where we are. Sometimes we hear gunships flying overhead. Sometimes, if the mortar fire and counter-fire is really intense, we here a distant rumble, mostly drowned out by traffic noise.

Everything, over the past few days, because of Sadr’s calls for, and threats of, violence. No doubt you see in the news interviews with locals, righteously (and rightfully) indignant at the prospect of American troops entering the 3-square-mile cemetery to root out insurgents. But there is more to that story.

First, the reaction against American troops continuing the fray is merely a part of a reaction against all foreign adventurism here. A quote: “We tell them all: why are you coming here to fight Americans? Go fight them in your own country. This is our country. Everyone should just go home. Do not come here and kill us because you wish to kill Americans.” But, above that, beyond that, is a resurrection of fear regarding Iran and Hezbollah. Here, the “first” Gulf War refers to the Iran-Iraq war—and it is still etched in memory. There’s a strong conviction that Iranian factions are sponsoring a good deal of the violence. Shia from Basra, formerly sympathetic to Shia from Iran, now see the latter as spoilers who wish only to take over control of holy sites in Iraq. Another quote: “They care nothing for this country. It is not their country. They wish only to push us aside and take what they want. But this is my country, not theirs. It is my country first. That comes before any religion.”

Second—and here’s the bit that has more to do with archaeology at the moment—are the afore-mentioned calls to violence. Earlier in the week, flyers appeared, circulated to Christian-owned shops. Convert to Islam, they say, and you will no longer be in danger. Yesterday, Sadr declared a “curfew” on all ministries, police forces, military, emergency services, and government offices, warning employees to stay home “for their own safety.” His “supporters” (are they his? Are they Iranian-backed “organizers? Who knows?) then attacked ambulances and water-delivery trucks serving his own neighborhoods.

So although nothing overt has happened outside Sadr City, it casts a pall and slows street-level commerce. Some businesses closed up for the day; some just closed early; others are opening late this morning. While this did cut down on traffic, making a certain amount of running around and purchasing that much easier, it also meant that yet again the university was closed, and no work done. As the uni is normally closed Thursday and Friday (the local weekend), we will not finish this week after all.

There’s no general upwelling of support for all this. Sadr’s fighters, in the local view, are a bunch of hired thugs, and he is himself the worst kind of political opportunist. I have now heard this universally from people of all religious stripes: Christian, Sunni, Shia. A chilling quote from a man normally most kind and gentle: “They should just kill him. We are sick of this. He cares nothing for his people. He cares nothing for this country. He’s just a thug pretending to be a religious man.” And from his wife: “This is not Islam. I’ve read through the Quran, line by line. There is nothing there that says what this man does is right.”

A rumor is circulating, supposedly corroborated by several witnesses: on the day of the church bombings, before the bombs went off, al-Arabiya and al-Jazira reporters were already on hand, cameras trained on the doorways on the sheltered side of the church, just in time to catch the screaming victims burst out. How, it is asked, could they have known to be there? Who knows. Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe they were not in fact there at all. But in this climate, Sadr’s calls to random violence certainly do not need any more media outlets. That sort of publicity is its own kind of adventurism. It merely pours gasoline on the fire. Violence ends—by ending. By everyone—everyone—laying down their arms. His community would be better served by wiser elders teaching its young men some traditional negotiating skills.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Good News and Threats to Fruit

A New York Times piece today, commenting on the government shut-down of Al-Jezira reporters, was headlined something to the effect “no bad news allowed.” Now, of course, the Times was addressing appropriate concerns that free press not be suppressed. But I must question the very substance of the headline. No bad news? From Iraq?

My impression is that there has been very little except bad news reported from Iraq. This despite concerted and often successful efforts by a great many citizens to calm things down and move life onto a—if not normal, than at least hopeful—footing. The utter failure to report any of the good news has been demoralizing for a lot of people—most of them Iraqi; and a dedicated few of other nationalities--who have not had a day’s respite in over a year. They’d like a little credit for what they have accomplished.

So, I’m not going to deliver bad news today. I’ll leave that to the wire services. Even without Al-Jezira, I am sure they’ll find plenty. I’m going to give credit where credit is due, and concentrate on some good news.

Yesterday evening, after the office closed, I went grocery shopping. This may sound utterly mundane. It was. That’s the point. No-one harassed me. No-one closed the door. No-one nervously thanked me for my custom, then requested quietly that I not come back. I made my selections from well-stocked shelves, paid predictably high-ish prices for imported items, and predictably dirt-cheap prices for local commodities, then went on my way. Nothing at all out-of-the-ordinary happened.

Next stop was a roadside fruit stand. Much haggling ensued over a watermelon the size of New Jersey. Insistence (on our part) that it not be cut for a sample. The melon is cut nonetheless, with a knife worthy of a bad b-movie. Now that it is cut, we don’t want it. Now that it is cut, we must take it. A price is named worthy of a Brentwood organic grocer. For an unwanted, uncut melon? Never! We buy elsewhere. Mundane. Again. Despite much brandishing of melon knives, only fruit was threatened, and in the end we bought two monstrous melons for about $1.00 each.

Of course, you are hoping for archaeology news, mundane or otherwise. Much of the past several days has been mundane indeed, spent reviewing invoices for equipment orders, making final decisions about placement of things like flatbed scanners and fax machines, and figuring out what, if anything, we are to do about the leaky roof at Mosul. As at home, it somehow takes the combined decision-making skills of at four Ph.D.s, the CEO, an IT chief, a senior civil engineer, a security chief (travel to, from, and within Mosul is dicey), a systems integrator, a budget analyst, and a secretary to accomplish this. (And these are only those of whom I am aware). But accomplished it is: installation at Baghdad U., Inshallah, is to be finished this week, and work will start in earnest at Mosul U. in the next several days.

Other good news is USAID’s donation of a used 4WD vehicle for the duration. We must first figure out how to pick it up from an undisclosed location, but it is destined for Baghdad U., so that they can get out to their field school at Sippar.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

Mortars and Other Minor Inconveniences


We had a scary moment yesterday in the Green Zone. Entry is controlled by double barriers. As we were held up between them for inspection of our car, the security guards suddenly dived behind the concrete bunkers, leaving us like little rats in a have-a-heart trap. We thought for a chilling moment that they’d found an explosive in the undercarriage. It’s a deadly-force-authorized zone, so we did not want to simply leap from the vehicle. We slowly opened the windows, then the doors, to ask what was up. Finally, a shivering Gurkha motioned that we were to come inside. Apparently, mortars were falling somewhere so distant that we could not even hear them. After five minutes we had the all clear, without actual incident.

We drove back to the offices amid reports of bad fighting in the West of the city, and sporadic outbreaks elsewhere. So we closed up early. It was a rough night. I was repeatedly awakened by explosions rattling the building. One was close enough to send spent gravel pattering gently against the window. I gave up trying to sleep and, with some sense of irony, watched Top Gun. I was somewhat reassured by the lack of helicopter gunships, police sirens, and ambulances. My street is a major thoroughfare, so after the Church and Ministry bombings the red lights and sirens went on for hours. Had anything really bad happened really close, it would have lit up the street. I heard distant shouting; a rattle of gunfire. But in the morning, the shops along the way opened as usual, albeit late. I’m a bit groggy today; having trouble concentrating on the work at hand.

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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Baghdad, when a church is bombed

There is a city around this city.
Where glass rains down, splattering shards in cobalt drops across the dusty steps
The haggard eyes of witnesses red-rimmed, blackened, staring, fists balled, throats hoarse from shouting at the sky, from begging God to stop the rain.
There's a city around this city, its rings of squatters camps long since leveled, sown with salt, rebuilt in regulated rows; reordered into neatened grids of cinder blocks in modernizing city schemes
Old byways turning in adobe bends toward the leafy cool of shaded canal-side gardens, now erased in one bold sweep of urban engineering.
Rings gone, the grids, the straight long streets now turning nowhere, leading nowhere, encircling all the same, with a prowling hope imported from the long-gone squatters camps without, now a marching, lockstep ache within.

There is a city around this city: it hides, it shields, it breathes a desperate grasp for turnings, coolness, a place along the Tigris banks, a place no more outside, a place no more the Arab street;
a place no more the clothes the speech the furious and futile pride of a second city a made city a city forced and framed from rural remnants still despised
and now displaced by space and time from old ancestral lands and ways.

There is a city around this city. It shuttled once from night to night in black sedans--black cars, hot cars, big cars, red cars, four-wheel armored SUVs, red sports coups, battered beaten orange and white and dented rusty taxicabs—
shuttled, roared, crept, sped, through the beaten, brutal nights from Palace moat to Palace basement; from torture cells to satin beds.
It chokes today, a smog of fear, hovering along the concrete ribbons that ring and cross and exit but never never leave; that hang above, a dusty pall along horizon hinterlands.

There's a city around this city. War rooms, tents, and offices; HUMMVs, EWACs, Tactical Commands; a soldier-city, a city of soldiers, they hover, glide, ride, patrol, surround, transgress, withdraw: a web, a cage, a deliverance from thirst;
distractions; terrors, a band of brothers; a company of friends:
A city they are too, of crime and hope and fear and boredom; of jobs well done and duties shirked as many and as variable as the city they surround and barely comprehend.

There's a city around this city. In it pipes, and out again: electric grids and oil pipelines and air supplies and boiler parts; satellite dishes like rooftop mushrooms, like bracket fungus stepping up the sides of concrete urban forests; plastic flip-flops, computer chips; highway truckers, convoys, road trains feeding, bleeding: money, imports, spare supplies; technicians, merchants, engineers.

There's a city around this city: of industry and land fills; glass factories and furniture repairs; a dying city, a trying city, a city under attack, assault, explosions, mortar rounds, assassinations, kidnappings, shortages, scandals, extraordinary efforts, high stakes, past profits, future fears.

There's a city around this city. Where window glass rained down to cover twenty New York city blocks, in a pyroclastic flow of office trash, screaming jumpers, smoke, and ash, and burning fuels: The haggard eyes of witnesses red-rimmed, blackened, staring, fists balled, throats hoarse from shouting at the sky, from begging God to stop the rain.
These witnesses, this city, seen and wrapped around the globe.

[Now Published in: Excavations: A City Cycle]

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Friday, August 06, 2004

Every Setback is Not an Opportunity


It is sometimes difficult to get those back in U.S. offices to be patient and understand the difficulties in working here. It's not just that it has a different language and different business culture (which it does). It is not just that it has its own mature bureaucratic system, accounting methods, and paperwork (there are reams of that, too). It's that it is a post-war reconstruction zone.

You can't just pick up the phone and call anyone, because the phones don't work, and anyway most people don't have them. You can't set an appointment, because that would tell the assassins exactly the time and place to murder whomever you are meeting. So you have to just show up, and hope that the office you are visiting is open, and that whomever you need is there.

When you do that, traffic is utterly unpredictable, because the number of cars on the road is at least triple what it was even a month ago. Whenever the military or a VIP is moving (unannounced of course), they close half the roads through the city, turning freeways into parking lots. About half the time--and an unpredictable half of the time--offices are just closed. Whenever there is a big security alert--like the church bombing--everything just shuts down. At the University, there are no summer classes, so to save salary and electricity they close. Contractors show up, but are turned away 3 times out of 4.

And the big construction contractors and projects--Titan, Halibuton, KBR, etc.—are sucking the country dry of qualified managers. There's just a lot more money to be made working for them than for us. So there may be plenty of workmen, but there are few to direct them, and even fewer to manage routine back office matters like invoicing.

Did I mention the 130-degree heat? That is not an exaggeration. The electricity cycles in 2-hour on, (hopefully only) 4-hour off increments, on an unpredictable schedule. Usually it cycles off-phase, which means that it won't actually run many appliances, like air conditioners, and it fries computers. So everyone sweats through the night and arrives to work exhausted. There are backup generators (which fill the air, inside buildings and out, with deisel fumes), but those for home use run on gasoline, not diesel. You can't legally fill gas cans (to prevent black marketing), so to get fuel for generators you wait in line, fill the car, drive it home, and siphon the gas out of the tank. I am buffered from this somewhat at the hotel--they manage to keep the air conditioning going some of the time, so my room temp at night stays down around 90, which is OK with a fan--but the people working for us don't have that luxury.

Compared to these unpredictabilities, sorting through, say, a budget variance, feels pretty minor. At least that has me inside air conditioned offices, where it's safe, and only 85 degrees.

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Monday, August 02, 2004

Church Bombings


As you may have heard on the news by now, the Armenian and Syrian Catholic churches a few blocks from here, and two Chaldean Churches across the city, were bombed during high mass yesterday evening. Several of our colleagues’ family members suffered minor cuts and abrasions from flying debris and some bruising from being trampled in the ensuing confusion.

The explosions rattled the office building. I could also hear the other two explosions in the far distance. Several people arrived at the office a few minutes later, shaken but themselves OK except as described. I cleaned them up, dressed their wounds, and offered what support I could. At least three were killed--I think at the Armenian Church--and a couple of dozen injured, but I will not have the full report until later today. (OK it is later, and the death toll is now above 20).

The community took the immediate precaution of closing the Christian clubs and offices, so I have been unable to email. Needless to say I myself am fine, and other colleagues came over for coffee yesterday evening. I was awakened once by gunshots in the street outside, but nothing seemed to come of it.

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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Baghdad Days and Nights


On the surface, life here seems improved since late March:

--More and more shops are open, including now pharmacies and some currency exchange. This is true not only along the high streets in Karrada, but now ever-more on lesser byways where the fare is less refrigerators and satellite dishes, and more plastic sundries, food stalls, and other dry goods. Those working are benefiting from higher salaries, which clearly are percolating through the consumer economy. Everyone is excited by the opening of a Chinese import emporium with dirt-cheap clothes.

--Transport and Construction: Road traffic is much heavier--often bumper-to-bumper--but now much better policed, and people have returned to following normal rules of the road. There's no longer any noticeable fuel (gasoline & propane) shortage--that is, I no longer see the long gas lines--but I have not really enquired.

Construction is booming, everywhere, and there's been a lot more cleanup of war rubble, but street cleaning seems to have fallen by the wayside--there are drifts of garbage and a dead dog even outside Neareasts' new offices. I get the impression that there's a strain on managerial capacity and skilled labor. There may be spare laborers about, but the country is running short on people to effectively direct, train, and supervise them.

--I am buffered from electricity outages here in offices & at a hotel with independent power generators, but everyone else suffers in this heat through 2-hour on, 4-hour off rolling blackouts. It is not that more capacity has not been brought online--it has--but power generation just cannot keep up with demand. The market is absorbing vast quantities of cheap refrigerators and air conditioners.

--Crime seems down, or at least less overtly violent. One no longer sees weapons openly carried on every street corner. Dozens or boxes of large appliances remain outside on the sidewalk overnight, with only a sleeping watchman to guard them. People report fewer random carjackings, but more robberies. No sounds of nearby or distant gunfire.

But all that's on the surface.

Despite all this, as compared to earlier this year, people themselves are grim and tense. The murder rate is extremely high. As more documents from the old regime are released and circulated, there are more revenge and reprisal killings. Our old hotel--with many apologies--will no longer accept Americans--they are just too afraid. Green Zone operations are retrenching, with offices moved into dug-in concrete shelters surrounded by blast barriers.

The second night here, at about 2 a.m., a man was gunned down across the street. Police sirens blared and flashed; he was taken away in the back of a police pickup truck. I could not tell if he was dead or alive, or whether he was a criminal shot by the police themselves. Everyone feels that the killings and kidnappings are being done by outsiders pouring in over the borders--from Iran, Syria, Jordan, who knows where--and nobody knows what to do about that. Everyone is nervous about standing in the shadow of foreigners, yet clearly they are grateful for the change and want to help as much as they can. A colleague’s wife gets very nervous when one of her sons, sent on a ministry mission, has not been heard from for several hours. Before, the risk was higher, but the actual danger lower. Now, the risk is lower, but the danger is higher and far more targeted. So what has happened is that Iraqis are just inured to the dangers and assert the right to act as if things were normal, while the Americans dig into their bunkers. Camouflage--blending in--is important.

I am living in a little safe-ish triangle between old offices, the hotel, and new offices, which are half a block away. The currency exchange, grocery, date shop, pharmacy, and stationers are all open, and the hotel food is excellent and cheap. It is several notches down from past accommodation, but the price is right, and I have a little suite with a kitchenette and even TV. The weather is Phoenix/Las Vagas-like, which feels right at home.

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