‘This Is Not a Life’

Already today at least 18 Iraqis have died as violence continues to escalate as the so-called elections approach.

Suicide car bombers are striking Iraqi Police (IP) stations on nearly a daily basis now.

Today’s target was in Tikrit, where U.S. military spokesman Major Neal O’Brien said six were killed when the police headquarters was bombed.

He also said, "As the Iraqi police continue to get stronger, and continue to pose a threat to the insurgents and terrorists, they will be targeted."

Most Iraqis I’ve spoken with appear to disagree with O’Brien.

"The Iraqi police are puppets of the Americans," says Abdulla Khassim, an Iraqi man selling vegetables in central Baghdad. "Who can respect them when they are so ashamed themselves many of them wear masks to hide their faces?"

Of course, the IPs who wear the masks do so for their own security, and that of their families, as anyone seen as a collaborator with the occupiers is immediately subject to attacks by the resistance, as are their families. Many of the Iraqi National Guard, which has now been folded into the Iraqi Army, wear black face masks as well for the same reason.

"Nobody respects them because they obviously cannot provide the security," Abu Talat tells me as we drive past a truck with two IPs in it in front of a closed gas station today.

During my last trip I interviewed several IPs who complained of a lack of weapons, radios, and vehicles from the occupation forces. Their complaints were centered on the fact that the resistance had better weapons than the police.

Later in my room, we watched a press conference on the television with the interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi. A journalist asked him if it was true that the cell phone service would be cut on the 15th of this month because of the upcoming "elections."

He dodged the question … deferring it to the Ministry of Defense. The same Ministry of Defense that yesterday announced the Iraqi Army was 50,000 troops and hoped that it would be increased to 70,000. Just today Allawi announced that it was comprised of 100,000 troops.

Of course, the gas crisis continues to worsen. Most of the stations in Baghdad are closed. Rather than cars filling their tanks, strands of razor wire and empty fuel trucks sit in many of them.

Ugly reminders of the lack of reconstruction about in Baghdad, like this building that was destroyed during the invasion.

Iraqis are reminded daily of the 70-percent unemployment with the gas shortage driving the costs of everything through the roof. Even petrol is 1,000 Iraq dinars (ID) per liter on the black market, which, unless you are willing to endure 12 to 24 hours waiting in a line, is the only way to get your tank filled.

When I was in Iraq one month ago, it was 300 ID per liter. Imagine what you would do if in your country you had 70-percent unemployment, were without a job, and the cost of fuel more than tripled in one month, thus driving the costs of everything from food to heating oil up?

Speaking of the gas crisis, this morning a pipeline between Kirkuk and the Beji refinery was exploded, and several lines southwest of Kirkuk were also destroyed.

In central Samarra today, a car bomb detonated as a U.S. convoy was passing, but no word from the military on casualties, which means there probably were some. A second bomb detonated shortly thereafter, killing at least one Iraqi soldier and a civilian.

Also, a roadside bomb intended for a U.S. convoy near Yusufiyah missed and struck a mini-bus, killing eight Iraqis and wounding three others. For unknown reasons, the minibus was then attacked by gunmen, who kidnapped three Iraqis.

Keep in mind that Yusufiyah, just south of Baghdad and in the "triangle of death," was recently the scene of large scale U.S./UK military operations to rid the area of resistance fighters. Looks like those operations were about as successful as Fallujah, where fighting also continues on a near daily basis.

Driving through Baghdad today, en route to an interview, we are once again spending most of the time sitting in traffic. At most intersections, women and children begging for dinars walk between cars with their hands out … pleading.

Abu Talat fumbles in his pocket for some dinars while an old man pleading for God to help him stands at the car window.

Holding a cane, he is blessing Abu Talat repeatedly for his kindness as he is handed some money.

"Look at what has become of Baghdad, Dahr," he tells me as the traffic finally begins to inch forward again. "All of us are suffering now. This is not a life."

Author: Dahr Jamail

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