Not Dick Cheney’s Iraq

ECC professor’s observations of Iraq
Posted Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Editor’s note: Jabria Jassim, an Elgin Community College chemistry professor, recently visited Baghdad to see relatives. She left Iraq years ago. Here is an edited essay on her observations.

Baghdad in 2007

This past December, I had a chance to visit Iraq for about two weeks. Previous to my travel, I was warned that landing at Baghdad’s airport is too dangerous and too risky, so I took a plane from Amman to Irbil, which is in the northern region. The majority of Irbil residents are Kurds. I found the city to be very peaceful, and the people there live “normal” lives. However, the living expenses for an outsider are very high due to the large influx of immigrants coming from Baghdad and a few other cities to the east and south of Baghdad where the violence is predominant. People who had lived in these areas either left their houses by choice or were forced to leave by the insurgents.

I stayed in Irbil for few days before heading to Baghdad. As I traveled across the land with some companions, we were stopped along the way at many checkpoints — some guarded by Americans and some by Iraqi soldiers. Tanks and artillery were on both sides of the highways so we all felt safe; but I was bothered by the reality of these so-called checkpoints. They either don’t check at all or the checking was not adequate. I heard comments from some travelers (Kurds, Arabs, and even foreigners) that these checkpoints were useless, and only there to slow the traffic.

The insurgents know this fact very well; so they continue to smuggle weapons and terrorists into Iraq from the neighboring countries. My gut feeling told me that it was too risky and too dangerous for the soldiers at the checkpoints to even peak into let alone to check inside cars and trucks.

What’s 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 I’m 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.

Read the rest here.

h/t Informed Comment

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