Baghdad out of order.
Eleven-year-old Ali and his friends are timid at first, afraid they will incur punishment if they admit to having frolicked amidst the tanks. A dollar encourages them to proudly demonstrate their familiarity with the field and the location of the many cluster bombs hiding among the bushes. Looters have stripped parts of the tanks. The barefoot boys in ragged clothes go inside the tanks, pointing to the rows of shells, and then they climb up on the turret.
Across town in Shaab City, five-year-old Fahad gleefully holds a propellant rod removed from Iraqi explosives. He lights one end, watching as a ball of fire races down the rod to his hand. Then he tosses the flaming rod onto the ground where it shoot around in circles. His three-year-old sister holds a rod in her mouth. Their uncle displays the many large caliber rounds he has found in an abandoned Iraqi ammunition dump that was looted.
Salam Muhamad, a thirty-year-old shepherd, is rushed into a Baghdad emergency room of the Al-Nur General Hospital. He lies half naked, an arm hanging down to the floor, a pool of blood below him, his breathing slow, forced, and failing. His relatives sit on the floor outside, wailing, crying, and beating themselves as they praise him and lament the loss of their sole provider. An American cluster bomb exploded in his face. Doctors don't have the necessary supplies to save him. They simply stare, while the cries of his relatives echo through the halls. Muhamad's breathing ceases, his head lolls to the side, and he dies.
The American and British occupation forces estimate that in Baghdad alone there are 700 sites containing UXOs (unexploded ordnance), abandoned missiles, armored vehicles, and tanks. Baghdadis will have to wait years before their city is free from the dangerous detritus of war that Americans dropped and the Iraqi military abandoned.
On streets throughout Baghdad, people lay down their wares, hoping that buyers will be interested in the screws, pipes, sneakers, computers, soccer balls, AK-47s, and grenade launchers they have likely stolen. Every neighborhood has its own weapons bazaar where a few dozen men display heavy weaponry of every variety and eagerly demonstrate their use by firing then repeatedly into the air. Right next to you. A Russian-made rocket-propelled grenade launcher can be found for fifty thousand dinars, or $40 to $50. When an American patrol drives by, the peddlers hide their goods under boxes or in the trunks of their cars, and then take them out again as soon as the patrol move on. The chatter of Kalashnikov shots and exchanges of fire puncture the silence of Baghdad nights.
Victims of the violence in Baghdad usually end up at the criminal medicine department, which squats on a muddy congested road next to the Ministry of Health. On the day I visit, a bus full of sobbing women sits before the entrance. An old man vomits on a wall to the side, while several other men sit glumly on the floor. An empty coffin made of wooden planks lies abandoned by the entrance, a large bloodstain in its center. The stench of death wafts out into the halls.
The department opens at 8 a.m., and by 11 a.m. on a late May morning, Dr. Hassan Faisal Lazim, a coroner, has already seen fifteen bodies. In the first two months after Baghdad fell, Dr. Lazim was seeing an average of fifteen to twenty-five murdered bodies a day. Before the war he would see about five such cases a month. The state had a monopoly on violence, but victims of the regime were taken elsewhere. It was also possible to accommodate oneself to life under Saddam, and to live without arousing the state's ire and incurring its wrath. The present violence is random; collaboration with it is impossible.
The U.S. occupation force has banned heavy weapons. Kalashnikovs are considered light weapons. They can tear a hole the size of a grapefruit in your body. At the central police station in Baghdad, a rusted desk sits in the shadows. Taped on it is a wrinkled paper that says, "Amnesty Point and Weapons Registration Desk." Three days after this quixotic program was initiated, Officer Rabi sheepishly admits that "not one weapon has been handed in." He is clearly not surprised. Police are armed with pistols, and everybody else has automatic weapons.
For those wounded in Baghdad's gun battles, there is little hope of finding help. Yakub al Jabati, a microbiologist at the national blood transfusion center located in the complex of buildings known as Medical City, summarizes the situation. "There is a shortage of blood. There is a shortage of everything," he says. "Blood, equipment, staff." He has not received his salary for three months. The labs look like a dusty basement where a hospital might store its obsolete machines. They use food refrigerators to store blood. The generators suddenly switch on after a temporary blackout from a cut in the main power supply. "Out of order, out of order, out of order!" he says, hitting one centrifuge after another. He opens a dirty refrigerator and points inside. "It contaminates," he scoffs. "We kill people here; we don't save them." He smiles bitterly. He says Iraqis who need blood must bring their own.
Most hospitals and clinics receive contaminated water, or no water at all. Contamination results in outbreaks of typhoid, gastroenteritis, and diarrhea. The Baghdad hospitals lack air conditioning, medicine, oxygen, or anesthesia. Floors are dirty; spilled blood is not cleaned up.
Just as I arrive at the Al Nut hospital, a car screeches to a halt in front. A shrieking, black-clad woman is thrown onto a broken wheelchair. She is slowly wheeled in, blood pouring from her womb because a midwife botched her labor. A thick trail of blood leads from the hospital driveway to the reception area down the hall to the emergency room.
The night before, doctors saw two women and a man brought in for gunshot wounds. Armed religious activists guard the hospital.
Already, there is nostalgia for the old regime. At least there was a regime, people say.
The expression I hear the most in Baghdad is "maku," which means "there is no." Maku safety, government, power, water, gas, food, medicine, money, jobs. Maku, maku, maku.
Nir Rosen is a freelance writer living in Iraq since April 15. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2003|
|Previous Article:||Gunpoint democracy in Iraq.|
|Next Article:||Withholding the cure.|