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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December, 2004, 17:14 GMT
Iraq log: 10 December 2004
In the last in our series of logs about everyday life in Iraq, our contributors look to the future with some hope and discuss the power shortages, corruption and the ever present danger of kidnapping.

Earlier entries can be found by clicking on the dated links on the right hand side.

Posted by BBC Host 10 December
This is the final instalment in our current Iraq log. We hope to do this again for the elections at the end of January. We'd like to thank our contributors for entries that have allowed readers a detailed view into lives lived in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We've also received more than 1,000 emails from readers engaging with each other and with our contributors in Iraq. Look out for another Iraq log next year.

Posted by Dhia Abdulwahab Baghdad, 10 December

I took a walk down the famous al-Rasheed Street. I was very aware of the changes witnessed by this once elegant boulevard, built under the British occupation in the last century. The Central Bank is now surrounded by concrete blocks, dividing the street in two separate sections. This is to protect the bank from any further explosions as it was repeatedly targeted in the past. There is also now the "scrap" market, selling second-hand clothes and electrical goods. The old antiques market is almost deserted because of the lack of clients. The same applies to the furniture market, where sellers wait in vain for potential customers.

I popped into a cafe. Some customers sat there sipping their tea, while others were discussing hypothetical business deals. The long seats don't seem to have been cleaned for a while; they are greasy and clothes stick to them. Posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a body builder, along with naive drawings of the Tigris River, randomly adorn the decrepit walls.

Then I went to the famous Zahawy café, which has for more than 50 years been a home from home for the intelligentsia. Intellectual debates have given way today to discussions about the fuel crisis and the ever rising prices of the bare necessities of life. But the water pipes are very elegant and the tobacco used to fill them is very strong and of a superior quality, unlike the tobacco used in the rest of the cafés of Baghdad. Women do not smoke water pipe in public in there as this is still not acceptable to Iraqi society.

There were no pictures of Saddam in the Zahawy. Only one portrait of the Iraqi poet Jameel Siddqi al-Zahawy, in whose honour the café was named, and some wooden beads adorn the walls. It was obligatory to hang a portrait of Saddam in every shop and official establishment during the old regime. Now Iraqis are free to hang any pictures they want.

Posted by Yasmin Baghdad, 10 December

I recently went through a horrible experience. I witnessed a roadside explosion as I was on my way to Mahmudiya. I was halfway between the district's courthouse and the hospital when a massive explosion shook the car I was travelling in. My heart stopped for a few seconds. The explosion came from a roadside bomb planted near the courthouse. Smoke was coming from everywhere, and for few moments I wondered if was dead or alive. As I recovered my senses, I looked around searching for American marines or Iraqi National Guards, but could not see any. There were only ordinary Iraqis in the street. I did not know if it was best for me to get out of the car or not. I felt as if I had aged 10 years in those few seconds. Luckily, no one was badly hurt. We later found out that the explosive device had been soaked with rain, reducing its power.

I was badly shaken when I got back home and my mother noticed straight away. She is always worried when I go to work, but she knows that I would never leave my job which I love and sit at home doing nothing. Even while I was in shock, I knew that once I was over this, I would be back out there again. Looking back at it now, I realise I wasn't afraid, even then. It was just shock. I know I could die at any moment, but I do not want to die, at least not yet.

Finally, I just want to say how much I enjoyed and valued sharing my experiences with so many people through this log. I was particularly interested in the response from non-Iraqis, especially from Arab readers. I must say that I have often felt Arabs across the world have just not been on my wavelength regarding events here in Iraq, but I was heartened by the reaction of most people on these pages. As we are about to move into a new year, I am filled with a mixture of optimism and pessimism about the situation. I hope and pray that the elections will take place on time and as scheduled. I feel that they will provide us with a real gear change, which we desperately need.

Posted by Sarab al-Delaymi Baghdad, 10 December

I was finishing preparing some Iraqi pastries, when my friends Um Aliaa and Um Sami came around for a chat and some strong tea. We talked about the usual things... the elections, the fuel crisis, inflation etc. Oum Sami wants to vote, and so do I but Oum Aliaa is a bit reluctant. We tried to persuade her of the importance of casting her vote.

We soon moved on to the question of whether to wear a head cover or hijab. I wear a hijab myself, but I do not take it too far, as I am against any kind of fanaticism. Many Iraqi women wore the veil as a sign of resignation and mourning during the many wars that we had to endure, while others did so to escape the harassment of the predatory men of the regime.

Women in Baghdad are traditionally more open than women in the provinces, but we've recently started to notice the emergence of a new type of more emancipated women in the provinces. Many women are becoming more engaged and active in political debate and some of them even occupy high administrative and political positions. This makes me and others hopeful of a better future. On the personal level, my wish is the same as ever: I hope I can fulfil my ambition of becoming a teacher again to help educate and nurture a new generation in my country.

Posted by Bryan Suits Baghdad, 10 December

This has been a valuable experience. I've enjoyed reading comments from Iraqis. I don't have a lot of patience for the opinions of those who are not here to see things for themselves. When I was home on leave I was dumbfounded by the disconnect between reality as I knew it in Iraq, and the American television punditry. All were carrying on about "The Arab Street" and other bits of silliness. I know it sounds like a cop out, but I've never felt more strongly that people who haven't been a part of this need to give some credit to those of us who have.

Regardless of what you think you know about the US Army in Iraq, I guarantee it's come to you through the media's filter. I spend the vast majority of my time amongst Iraqis. I respect most of their culture and the rest bewilders me. I know that we Westerners are confused by much of what happens in this part of the world. But I continually try to understand. I have forged real friendships with the people who are supposed to hate me the most.

In the end, they've learned that Americans are idealists. My men aren't here for the money. With one vocal exception, my men want to leave here knowing they made it better. America didn't install Saddam. Any of the cynics out there who persist in that fiction have no real understanding of what kind of man Saddam was.

Why isn't the UN here helping this place prepare for its first real election? I have no idea. I can only guess that lingering bitterness over the American decision to go to war with Saddam has clouded their ability to see the larger good. I hope Afghanistan changes their mind. As for me, I can report that in my area of responsibility today, no one was killed for opposing the government. No one was killed because of the way they worship. No athletes were tortured because of poor performance. No ethnic minorities were gassed. And no cheap limestone palaces were completed for the price of 200 schools.

What did happen was that an American lieutenant and his eight men from the west coast of the United States drove south from Baghdad at 0800. They drove in the near freezing morning air to review a water line which will bring tap water to a town that hasn't had it in years. They arrived at 0930 and were recognised by a man who brought them coffee instead of the traditional tea. He remembered the lieutenant from three weeks ago when he gave the man a pound of American coffee called "Seattle's Best".

Through a translator the man said that soon he'll make the Americans' coffee from fresh tap water, not bottled water. The coffee was thick and sweet, flavoured with cardamom. The aroma and flavour were luxurious. After a few minutes the inspection was complete and the Americans went on their way to their next stop. The man with the coffee and the lieutenant shook hands and the man pulled him closer to kiss his cheek. The lieutenant was once uncomfortable with this, but after 10 months this feels like an old custom.

Posted by Shehab Ahmad Basra,10 December

I've been working with various Danish news agencies this week. I told you in my last log entry about the Iraqi prisoners I interviewed that were tortured and beaten by Iraqi forces. Well, this happened in the areas controlled by Danish and British troops, and there are indications that the international forces knew about these sorts of activities. The reports we've been running in our newspaper caused quite a stir in Denmark, and the minister of defence has been making comments. So the Danish news organisations have been sending people here and I've been working with them. It has been great, and I'm very pleased the treatment of Iraqis at the hands of Iraqi forces trained by and working closely with the international coalition is becoming a political issue abroad. Human rights are still a massive issue, maybe the main issue here. The regime has changed, but we have some of the same problems. This fills me with dread and regret.

Your readers have been urging me to vote in the January elections after some comments I made in a previous log entry. I would vote, I love the idea of voting and my vote meaning something. But there are no candidates standing in my area that I consider true Iraqis, with Iraq's interests truly at heart. All the main candidates represent groups and organisations that were outside Iraq until very recently. They are funded from abroad and have the interests of the countries they were in during Saddam's rule at heart. How can I vote for them?

I think I have a bleak view of the immediate future here for the people of Basra. There are the usual difficulties with electricity and petrol prices and security, but my main worry is who will come to power and will they do the right thing for Iraqis.

My family are really scared for me too. They think that journalism is too dangerous and I should just give it up. I've told you about the threats that my colleagues and I have had from powerful people here. My family want me to do anything but journalism, but what else would I do?

Posted by Dhia Abdulwahab Baghdad, 10 December

I took my mother to collect her pension. The problem is that she cannot climb the stairs to the second floor where the pension department is located so normally it falls to me to take her pension book upstairs while she waits on the pavement outside. Today, I was surprised to see a young woman civil servant from the pension's office talking to people on the pavement and collecting proof of identity papers etc from those pensioners who were not able to climb the stairs. She did everything she could to make the process that much easier for them. People like her give me hope that despite everything, Iraq has a future.

After that, I headed to the garage to see to my car tyres, each of which has cost me some 25,000 dinars (roughly $15). Apart from maintenance, another headache here is that there is no insurance as such so when a traffic accident happens, the two drivers have to resolve the problem themselves. This is usually done amicably but not always. In the old days under the previous regime, you had the added fear that should you be involved in a traffic accident with the son or a relative of senior member of the government, you may well end up in prison or even dead!

So another day in Iraq passes and I cannot even remember if I heard any explosions today. I am so used to them now. In any case, I am grateful that I have my wife (without whose support, it would not been easy to endure these experiences) and my children and that we are facing these challenges together.

Posted by Sarab al-Delaymi Baghdad,10 December

The power supply is now even more unreliable. Electricity comes on for an hour and a half then off for five hours. This is putting a lot of strain on us. My children have resorted to using kerosene lamps when they study at home. Iraqi families - including us - are keen to send the kids to school despite the dangers. But I am torn between sending my children to school and my nagging fear for them when they are outside our home. Many parents pick their children from school and walk them home.

We continue to hope that things will get better. Problems facing schools in Iraq today are very different from the past. For example, there aren't enough textbooks to go round, but students for the first time were given brand new schoolbags by the ministry of education. The new geometry kit is much better than the old one, and civic studies were scraped from school curricula. These were compulsory and were used to disseminate the ideas of the old regime. Schoolbooks no longer carry the picture of Saddam nor the fabricated stories about his victories.

Teachers' salaries are remarkably high. They use to earn 3,000 dinars a month , the equivalent of $2.50, now a newly hired teacher earns a salary of $130. Those with long service can earn $450. Schoolteachers who had reached a certain level within the Baath hierarchy were dismissed when the regime fell. Those who were ordinary members kept their jobs because they had to join the party. There is no fear anymore from the sons of officials or from politically active teachers. Generally, the quality of education is still high.

Posted by Yasmin Baghdad, 10 December

Most of the drugs provided by the ministry of health are made in Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Bangladesh. Some of these are of poor quality. The best drugs are those made in Iraq in the town of Samarra. The factory there resumed production last year after a long interruption. But its output doesn't meet the high demand, and imported drugs are still needed. Unfortunately, some health officials steal the badly needed drugs, emboldened by the lack of control. The stolen drugs are then sold at very high prices.

When I got home last night, I was shocked to know that my neighbour's son, who is eight years old, was abducted right in front of their house. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of $2,000. A few days ago, my neighbour told me that a little boy was kidnapped at his school's gate, in the Saidiya district. His mother, who lost her husband to a cluster bomb during the war, was driven to support the insurgents. The younger brother of a colleague of mine in the medical centre was also abducted by a gang who demanded £10, 000 for his release. Once the boy was returned to them, his family decided to leave Iraq for the UAE.

These are some of the comments we have received so far on this log.

Some refer to the previous logs:

To Shehab Ahmad, You've mentioned in the past your reluctance to vote for somebody who does not have the interests if the common Iraqi at heart. Maybe you should consider running for a position in the new government. Show your fellow Iraqis the true meaning of democracy and give them a voice. You did say you were looking for another line of work...
Aaron Caveny, Duluth, Minnesota, USA

I am sad to see that this is the last of the daily log. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes the BBC would continue to bring these enlightening accounts from all the brave citizens of Iraq and Lt Suits to the world. God bless you all and never give up your hope.
Joann, Tennessee, USA

The journals are fantastic and highlight that there is only one possible course of action for Iraq to re-establish itself. Firstly, all Iraqis should vote, even if there is no clear candidate they support. A legitimately elected government carries more weight than what is currently in place. At the end of the day, you can always elect someone else later. Secondly, a legitimately elected government could come to agreement with the UN so that they may take an active role in restoring security in Iraq, thus reducing US presence and giving the people more help to rebuild their country. Thirdly, the UN could appoint a representative with similar powers to that which Sir Paddy Ashdown has in Bosnia so that the path to a functioning democratic state is not a lonely or misguided one.
Damian Owens, Watford, UK

Please keep these reports coming, don't stop that idea. They are the only voices we hear from an official, credible media from ordinary people's everyday lives. Thanks for your good work.
Peter Bartl, Balfour, British Columbia, Canada

I would like to comment on the massage from Mr Maythem Husseini. My wife cannot control her emotions when she watches the adverts on the TV about the new Iraq, the sight of the Iraqi flag brings her tears every time. She said once: "It is very strange, in the past when they raised the flag at school it did not move me, it was more like a joke standing there watching the flag being raised." I agree that the feeling of belonging to the country is getting back into the Iraqis.
Salam, London, UK

I would like to respond to Firas' comments, I agree with the fact that if this country were invaded I would most definitely take up arms. But, and here is the big but, if a dictator was ruling my country through fear and murder I would hope that other countries would try and come to our aid and give me the choice on who I wished to lead my country. Sanctions on Iraq only hurt the Iraqi people not the ruling elite as they just used the black market to get what they desired. Would Saddam have held a referendum, fair and open to all and let his people choose? I think not.
Jon Cowley, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, UK

I have just discovered the "Iraq Logs" and truly appreciate the time being taken to write them. It is so difficult to get an idea of what is going on over there from the news brief on television. These are wonderful, insightful, and this one was even entertaining. I am forwarding this web page to all my friends.
Michelle Ide, Indianapolis Indiana

I second Jake Brady's comment. My little brother is currently at the Air Force academy. I think it's absolutely vital Americans can open a dialogue with the Arab community. The more we come to understand each other, the less likely we are to kill each other.
Matthew Joyce, New York City

The BBC blogs we are privileged to read here are painting a picture of misery, but incredible hope. All democracies that were wrestled from tyrants cost blood and suffering. Iraq is the domino that may well tip the despotic regimes that surround her. Judging by this blog, the Iraqi people, and the so-called occupiers, will win in the end despite the naysayers, moaners, and believers in myths.
Paul, Canada

To Sarab and Dhia, Your pride in your country and your high hopes for it are apparent. You should know that many Americans, myself included, see US elected officials and cabinet officers on TV, and we feel ashamed and worried that people will think all Americans (whether they support the current US action in Iraq or not) make callous comments or are insensitive to the situation past and present in Iraq.
Dr. Feldman, Washington DC, USA

Dhia Abdulwahab laments the loss of "the chivalry they [Baghdadis] were long renowned for". He comments that he is ashamed by video shot of the trash-strewn streets, because foreigners will think Iraq a backward place. But then he blames this all on Saddam's regime. Why? Were the streets trash-strewn when Saddam was in power? Or did it occur only after the invasion? Be honest, but please tell us. I truly want to know.
Bob James, McFarland, Wisconsin, US

I think Ali al-Dhaher from Canada is missing the point. When Saddam was in power, it was very hard to fight against him, because people had neither the weaponry nor the funding. Since Saddam's downfall, the insurgents have got hold of the weapons, and are now able to wage their guerrilla campaign. It should also be remembered that some of the insurgents are from abroad and were not in Iraq when Saddam was in power.
Ahmed Usmani, London, UK

Yes, we need more than prayers for the Iraqi people. It would be so helpful if we could engage the UN in a meaningful and positive way as the world community tries to create a peaceful and prosperous Iraq. The Bush administration has made colossal errors in judgement as we try to bring a capitalist and democratic way of life to Iraq. I believe that the prognosis would be much brighter if there was an honest, concerted effort to reengage the rest of the world in the Iraqi situation. I also believe that we need to acknowledge the incredible number of Iraqi civilians who have been wounded and killed in the past couple of years. We, as Americans, act like those casualties don't exist.
Dave, Minnesota, USA

The situation is improving but slowly. People here in Diyala have become hostage to the terrorists. Terror and the Baathists have been allowed to flourish because of the absence of strong government and the weakness of the security forces.
Mouhanid Majid, Diyala, Iraq

My son who is seven came back from his first Thursday at school. Thursdays are when schools have Iraqi flag ceremonies, including the singing of the national anthem. He told us that he cried when the flag was raised and the national anthem was sung. I challenge any Iraqi to tell me that such a reaction would have occurred in the days of Saddam. Our love for our country is returning and if you do not believe me check with those who produce flags in Iraq and ask them by how much their output has increased. You can also look at the number of cars in Iraq that now display the Iraqi flag.
Maythem Husseini, Baghdad

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