Saturday, October 11, 2008

Better, But Not Good

We all know about the declining U.S. casualties in Iraq, but......

There is much less violence now, but Baghdad is nowhere near returning to normal: the streets are full of potholes and the traffic is clogged and backed up by check-points.

Concrete anti-blast walls still surround almost every significant building here, and stretch along streets where there are markets bringing relative safety, but turning the pavements - where the vendors' stalls are - into narrow, claustrophobic canyons.

There are numerous sandbagged machine-gun posts. There is even one looking out from the walls of the ministry of agriculture compound.

Residential districts are protected with chicanes of concrete bollards, coils of rusting razor-wire, oil drums filled with concrete, sawn-down trunks of date palm trees and more check-points, protected with sandbags.

Despite all that......

One day, our anonymous BBC car is waved on by two policemen, but then everybody is doing urgent U-turns and heading back the way they came. The street is cordoned off - there has been a roadside bomb. Two people are dead and two cars are wrecked.....

The next day, two bombs - one in a car in a car-park, the other by the roadside - kill 16 people. They were out shopping and at least 50 more were injured, but it barely makes the news.

Even the positive developments are tainted.

But the good news is that people are growing more confident. They shop for High Definition TVs, satellite dishes, DVD players, air conditioners, and the generators to power them. Baghdad still has to endure long periods without mains electricity.

A comedy about the last five years in Iraq is playing to full houses at the National Theatre.
It is a black comedy and, in one scene, members of the Iraqi parliament are assembled in their chamber. From offstage, there is a shout: "It's salary time". They all rush out, abandoning their agenda.

The director, Haidar Munathir, tells me: "Our politicians are political teenagers. They are overpaid and they achieve nothing". And if Iraqis have no confidence in their politicians, the new peace has no secure foundations.

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