BAGHDAD — The big story in our section of Baghdad since I last wrote was the attack by a suicide bomber on a popular kebob restaurant very close to where we are located. Once again it was a place frequented by police and army recruits. As usual, they were packed in like sardines and made an excellent target for one of the bombers, since there was no attempt at all to screen the people coming into the restaurant. Twenty-three of them were killed.
In spite of all the bombers, both human and automotive, things continue to get better in the everyday lives of Baghdadians. The city continues to be slowly cleaned up. Electric service is gradually improving. The regular blackouts, which seemed to be of perpetual duration not long ago, are now a bit more manageable. The other night at a dinner I attended with about a dozen U.S. Army officers, I learned that the Iraqis, on their own, have totally repaired the significant damage to the Baghdad water supply inflicted four days earlier.
Along with these important developments in Iraq, I have had time to continue observing some of the little things that one can’t help noticing here.
For instance, Iraq does not have a domestically made staple remover that works! I am not carping, but it’s from the ability to produce such humble objects that great industrial powers are born.
Thank God I brought one with me from the States. I was just admiring its sleek lines and saw that the damn thing was made in China!
Every day at noon the electric generator at our headquarters is turned off for an hour. It saves $10 a day and wear and tear on the machine! When the temperature at noontime is, on average, up around 125, it seems that a second look should be taken at some of the other costs involved in our sitting in pools of sweat.
One of those costs is apparent today. We are crashing ahead on a proposal for an $800,000 project. I have asked our secretary to work through lunch to get it ready. In fact, I have bribed her with a Snickers bar to which I know she is addicted. A short while ago she left. I asked her where she was going… “To lunch,” she replied. “The power is off and my computer doesn’t work without it.”
I don’t know where the generator switch is. We are losing an hour. Meanwhile, the Internet invariably goes down from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. The proposal is due by 7:00 p.m. and I am having apoplexy! But we are saving $10 — and possibly missing a deadline on an $800,000 project.
I think W.S. said it best: “For want of a nail the kingdom was lost!”
NOW FOR AN ADDENDUM to my earlier report about $100 bills in Iraq. They are not quite as universally accepted as I had thought. I just gave one to my driver/aide Osama to take to the bank to change for smaller bills. He came back with it and said it’s not acceptable at the bank because it is a pre-2003 bill! I guess they must have added some anti-counterfeiting feature that year. I did notice that the date is on the front of the bill just as it is on the back of a coin.
A few evenings ago, one of our people went to help a neighbor transport more than $250,000 in cash to the bank! Almost all business transactions between individuals, and between local companies, are carried out in cash, so the existence of absolutely astounding hoards of cash is not at all unusual. When my friend got to the bank, the tellers counted all the bills by hand (that is, 2500 bills), and rejected every single one that was not post-2003!
All of you should check your wallets and dump the older C-notes if you are headed this way.
FOR ABOUT A MONTH AND A HALF I have been hearing a report about how the Iraqi Army is dealing with insurgents. I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA if it’s true, but the story persists. The people I hear it from are Iraqis living in the general Baghdad area, not in the Green Zone or other sheltered places. I consider most of the people from whom I have heard it to be reliable individuals not given to making up wild stories. That doesn’t, however, insure it is true.
A few days ago I read a report from one of the major reporting agencies that, indirectly at least, bolsters the possibility that what I have been hearing has a whiff of truth to it. That story, from a major news source, said that the new Iraqi Army has reverted to some practices of the old Hussein days and engaged in the torture and, in some cases, execution of those swept up by anti-terrorist patrols.
A few months ago, there were several reports that said terrorists had kidnapped and executed a number of police conscripts and dumped their bodies in a landfill. A few weeks later the same happened with some army recruits.
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