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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Fragmentation, chaos and danger

By Jim Muir
BBC News correspondent

On 7 June, BBC News chronicled in detail events throughout Iraq, and talked to Iraqis from all walks of life about their everyday experiences and the violence that surrounds them. Jim Muir, who reports regularly from Iraq, reflects on how the day unfolded.

In the most troubled areas, many people are tempted to look back on Saddam Hussein's days with some nostalgic regret. At least, they say, there was security, and you could move around.

Iraqi soldiers carry out a night raid in a small village near Yussufiyah, 20 kms south of Baghdad, as part of Operation Lightning
Iraq's authorities have launched a new security crackdown

For those Iraqis that have jobs, just getting to work can mean running a daily gauntlet of checkpoints, traffic jams and bomb threats.

One of the first people we heard from on 7 June was Maysoon al-Damluji, the deputy minister of culture. She tries to be at work by 0900 or 1000 in the morning, she says, as that is when the car bombs usually start to go off.

"I try not to go through the centre of Baghdad, I also have to ride a different car every day. And all this only protects me against personal attacks, but the biggest fear I have is of the car bombs that can kill anyone. It's just luck."

Imagine tackling that kind of journey and then sitting final examinations. That is the day facing many of the students at Baghdad University.

I never leave the house in my uniform. I leave as a civilian
Anonymous Iraqi policeman

Issam al Rawi is a geology lecturer at the university.

As with every morning, he begins the day at 0500 by going to the mosque for dawn prayers. Even that, he says, is frightening as police often target the mosques looking for insurgents.

The security situation will not stop him living his daily life, he says, but it will not get better until young people like those he teaches can find jobs.

"There are so many youth, people without work. There is injustice, inequality and everything. There are occupation troops in the roads. The demands of security need so many things, not just force," he said.

'Will I live or die?'

It is not just the political violence, the bombs and assassinations, and all the security measures taken to suppress them, that bother many people in Baghdad and other badly-hit areas.

It is also straightforward criminality and the feeling that there is no authority controlling the streets.

Car bomb blast in Baghdad's Shula neighbourhood on 7 July 2005

Although the new Iraqi government, sworn in on 3 May, has launched a major security operation codenamed "Lightning" in recent weeks in and around Baghdad, it is too early for people to feel that the situation is under control and the authorities fully in charge.

The very forces in charge of imposing law and order are themselves one of the prime targets for the insurgents.

Many have been killed or injured in bomb attacks on patrols and checkpoints. Others have been shot dead on their way to work.

Many would-be recruits have been blown up while waiting in line to apply for jobs with the police or army.

One anonymous Iraqi policeman told us: "I never leave the house in my uniform. I leave as a civilian. I must protect myself because of the security situation or lack of it.

"I don't have boring days; sometimes I find myself, while running towards a situation, thinking: 'Will I live or will I die?'

'No electricity, no water...'

More than two years on from the US-led invasion, utilities in many areas remain patchy, especially electricity, and fuel is in short supply too. Osama Basil, a civil engineer in Baghdad explained: "We have electricity for only eight hours a day now, in our famously hot summer.

As for the future, I think it will not be good at all, but hopefully it will improve
Baghdad schoolgirl Jasmine
"It affects us all. I can be sitting with my family, and we suddenly lose electricity, then we have to change over to what we call street generators.

"I pay a certain amount of money for this, but it can hardly turn on the lights in the house, without even thinking of using air conditioning."

This lack of services makes it very difficult to make a living. "I work in a salon for the ladies," says Um Mustafa, a hairdresser in Baghdad. "There is no electricity, no water, the heat is killing us."

In what could have been a booming post-war situation in this oil-rich country, jobs are also scarce. The violence has severely curtailed aid and reconstruction activities, and there is very little productive investment.

All this certainly applies to Baghdad and the mainly Sunni areas to the north and west.

But in the far north, where the Kurds are in control, and in the largely-Shia south, the security situation is generally much better, and consequently, people's lives are considerably better, or at least less stressful, than in the more troubled areas.

Omar Abdulkader, a journalist in Suleymaniya in the Kurdish north of the country, told us that life there was "quite normal".

"It's easy to move around between bars, cafes and restaurants," he said, "and not just for Kurds. If you walk for a while you'll come across blue-eyed foreigners walking alone on the street, and they feel safe.

"For 13 years this area was out of the reach of Saddam's regime, so the people suffered shortages of power and fuel. But recently it's been getting better."

Shattered infrastructure

The picture coming across through all the testimonies we received during the day was one of fragmentation, chaos, danger and disruption, and the huge problems everybody faces struggling to lead a normal life in daunting conditions.

If security can eventually be assured, Iraq has a lot going for it

Clearly, a monumental task of reconstruction lies ahead. The infrastructure alone is 25 years behind where it should be. It has been shattered not just by the huge destruction caused by the US-led invasion of 2003, but by eight years of war with Iran in the 1980s, the blows dealt after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the 13 years of sanctions that followed.

That task cannot even be started until the security situation stabilises, and there is little prospect of that happening quickly. All Iraqis know that their future prosperity depends on security.

Jasmine, a schoolgirl in Baghdad told us: "As for the future, I think it will not be good at all, but hopefully it will improve. It is sad when I know that all my friends and family are leaving Iraq to be safe. Right now, even if we are at home we are not safe."

In the long term, many Iraqis are more optimistic, and their resilience and spirit shone through much of what they had to tell us on 7 June.

Rebuilding a country whose political system and security forces were as battered as its infrastructure was never going to be easy.

If security can eventually be assured, Iraq has a lot going for it: oil wealth, a strong educational base, and many patriotic expatriates eager to return and invest their efforts and savings in rebuilding their homeland.


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