A Long, Hot Summer Begins

Sometimes I forget that burnout applies to me too. After nearly two months straight of chasing stories, it was obviously time for a break. Unlike home though, one can’t go take in a movie, take a jog or even a casual stroll. Walking around anywhere in Baghdad, being a Westerner, is never casual. So I’ve spent most of my day off inside.

I asked one of my Iraqi friends what most Iraqis do to relax nowadays, and he said about all there is to do to relax is to sit around and drink tea. He said, “I used to go swimming a lot, but the local pool got bombed during the war, so I haven’t gone swimming lately.”

He used to go out with friends late into the night, before the war. “We used to start the evenings at 8 p.m., but now we have to end them by 7,” he tells me.

So, a relatively calm day in Iraq today … this roughly translates to more sporadic fighting in Kufa where US troops killed several Iraqis, the naming of a new Prime Minister whom nobody voted for, two Japanese journalists being killed when their vehicle was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade and a tenuous “truce” in the works between coalition forces and Muqtada Al-Sadr.

The tenuousness of the entire situation isn’t helped by the machinations going on prior to the June 30 “handover.” What happens next here is anybody’s guess.

It’s been interesting watching the new influx of retail goods: Pepsi, 7-Up, and Coke are all here in force. Snickers, Toblerone, and other Western products as well … but the most obvious are the huge stacks of air conditioners, refrigerators and small generators that tend to form small canyons along the streetsides of Karrada and Arasat, among others.

What other “progress” can I report? A journo friend visiting a mutual friend of ours in Baqubah gave me a ring on the cell tonight – so the cellular service now includes Baqubah, which is about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Yet another gas crisis has hit Baghdad. Due to the oil pipeline which feeds the refinery at Al-Dora being blown up on May 12, production has dropped a bit here since Dora provides roughly 30% of the gasoline for Iraq.

Some of the gas lines are now over 3 miles long, and Iraqis are NOT happy about it. Sitting in their cars for hours on end in 110 degree temps isn’t exactly helping things here, and most Iraqis (remember the 60% unemployment rate) can ill afford to pay the five to 10 times higher black market rate to fill their cars or jerry-cans for their generators (remember that electricity is still far below pre-war levels).

I was contemplating going to Basra in June with a colleague, and told my translator Abu Talat about it. In shock he said, “You want to go to Basra?” I told him I was thinking about it, why? “It’s not hot there, it’s HELL!” He was referring to the heat … which if it’s that much warmer than Baghdad, I may have to reconsider. Hopefully, insh’allah, there won’t be another gas crisis here in July or August.

That’s enough of my random thoughts for tonight – time to get some sleep while our generator is still powering the air conditioner. It’s been going out at nights now because of the gas shortage … so a few hours of good sleep before waking up sweaty is calling my name.

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.