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February 22, 2007

Yeah, sounds like any big city...

When are the citizens of the United States going to come to grips with what has been done in our names in Iraq? Here is just part of an account from a college professor who visited in December 2006:

Whatís in Baghdad

At first sight, the city looked more damaged and brutally wounded, and more devastated than when I left it last year. Not a single hour passes without one hearing an explosion, a car bomb, or devastated women and children screaming for help. I saw people running from a suicide bomber and others trying to pull bodies from a fire. Sirens from ambulances and police cars and helicopters flying day and night all over the city all join in to create a constant roar of horrible noises.

My beloved Baghdad has a 9 p.m. curfew. The government-run power plants provide residential electricity one hour a day, but not every day. Private sources of electricity are available at very high rates so they are only for people who can afford the high rates. One source is a man located at the end of the block from where Iím staying. He runs a huge generator, and his deal is $100/month for four hours of electricity a day. If we remember that the average salary of an Iraqi college graduate is only $300/month, then we have to agree that the price is a little steep. Most of the people are jobless due to lack of security, the fear of kidnapping, and all the other atrocities being committed on a daily basis. Others buy their own generator run on either gasoline or benzene, which cost about $5/gallon. This is also sold by a private enterprise and the supplies are not always available. Therefore, people look for a few liters of fuel in the black market and pay double if not triple the cost.

Drivers line their cars up at gas stations where they often have to stay all night and sometimes for two days in a row, all while taking the risk of getting shot at by terrorists who thrive on finding crowds in open areas. These kinds of attacks are always on the news.

There is also a rationing of water in Baghdad. Some use water pumps to get additional water, which worsens water shortages and causes friction between neighbors, especially with those who canít afford powering a water pump.

The continuous shortage of fuel is hard to imagine in Iraq, as it is one of the top producers of petroleum oil in the world. Thousands of barrels of this precious commodity are either smuggled out of Iraq or sold by shrewd businessmen to Iran and other neighboring countries. This transportation occurs right under the noses of the Iraqi and the coalition forces.

The shortages of electricity, fuel and water are tolerable among the Iraqis when compared to the concerns for security and safety. People in Baghdad and other cities who leave their houses face any of the following disasters:

1. Being kidnapped for a hefty ransom. This is a huge business and a very good source of income for insurgents. The minimum ransom demand is $20,000 and often goes up to a million dollars. Talk on the street is that if the ransom is not paid within 24 hours, those kidnapped are simply killed. One FBI agent also said that 90 percent of the kidnapped people donít return alive to their families. A daily task by some police units is to retrieve bodies from the Tigris River. An office at the American Embassy in Baghdad was established to help with ransom demands, in extreme cases.

2. Being hurt or killed by a car bomb. Car bombs go off in every corner of the city a few times a day.

3. Being injured or killed by suicide bombers: Ö The goal was to kill those who escaped the first blasts and also those who rush to rescue the victims will be killed the second time around. The suicide bombers are religious extremists who belong to a certain branch in Islam, and they believe strongly that killing even innocent people is a short cut for them to get to heaven, where they get awarded with villas and virgins galore. So the more they kill, the better their rewards.

4. Being attacked by snipers, who are in motorcycles or in private cars. Some even wear police uniforms with heads and faces hidden. They shoot randomly at crowds in streets and open markets.

Besides all that, in some extremely dangerous cities, families are forced by gunmen to leave their houses and everything behind. A very common scene in some neighborhoods is seeing a whole family with children knocking at doors begging for food and a place to stay.

You may ask why donít they go to the police or call the government. Yes, Iraqi police can be found; however, most of the Iraqis donít trust them. Some work directly with the insurgents; others are very corrupt and will do anything for money or just a little power. I also learned that the government at one time was so desperate for police that they hired criminals who escaped from prisons without checking their backgrounds. As a result, some criminals are not only getting a good salary but also guns, cars and power. I have to be fair here and say, there are decent and honorable policemen who want to fight terrorists and corruption but they have no power and/or no saying in any matter and their hands are tied.

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