Low Fuel, High Violence

By Dahr Jamail
Last night I peered out my hotel room window into the vast darkness of Baghdad. Aside from random lights powered by generators, the blackened capital city seemed to lay dormant under high winds and a cold, driving rain.
This morning as we're driving under clear, crisp skies on the harrowing streets Abu Talat tells me, "We have had neither water nor electricity at our house since 9am yesterday morning. It is as if we are camping in our house!"
He laughs his usual deep laugh as I shake my head. I noticed he hadn't shaved in a couple of days.
Sirens wail in the distance as Apaches rumble low overhead and we make our way to our interviews. Looking out the window I see a rough looking man wearing a black leather jacket ambling along the street. He wears a wide leather belt with a pistol strapped on his right side, and a knife which runs down to his middle thigh on his left. Welcome to occupied Baghdad.
A little further we begin what is often a quest to find some "reasonably" priced black market petrol. The first man we ask tells us 8,000 Iraqi Dinar (ID) for 20 Liters ($1.06 per gallon). While the prices have dropped from a recent 20,000 ID per 20 liters, they are still unacceptable to Abu Talat, who paid 100 ID for 20 liters prior to the invasion at pumps where maybe one car was in front of him.
He is irked at the 8,000 ID, so we drive past a miles long gas line to find a boy selling for 8,000 again, so we continue on to find another boy selling for 6,500 ID.
Abu Talat asks him some questions then drives off again.
"Why didn't you take it for 6,500," I ask perplexed.
"He wouldn't swear to me it wasn't watered down," he replied with a smile.
Another block further we find another boy
selling for 6,000. He passes the swear test so we wait as he dumps 20 liters through his old plastic half of a soda bottle into the tank. Nearby is his cache of fuel on a handy push cart so he can make a quick getaway if Iraqi or US soldiers decide to break up his little black market, as they so often do when the feel compelled.
We continue on over towards Khadamiya while listening to the radio. The Iraqi resistance appears to be spreading to the south as a few days ago an Italian soldier was killed when his helicopter took ground fire. Just yesterday a Polish soldier died when his helicopter took fire near Babil, while today 6 Iraqi soldiers were wounded when a car bomb detonated at their checkpoint in front of the Polish military HQ in Hilla.
In case you missed it, recently the Bush administration quietly downgraded the list of members of the famed "coalition of the willing" from 45 countries to under 30.
Then of course there's always Mosul-another US soldier died there today in clashes, bringing the Pentagon number of dead troops to 1,372 since the invasion. Also, just north of Ramadi today a police station was raided by resistance fighters who made off with equipment and weapons. They didn't kill any policemen, but after forcing them out of their station they warned them they would kill them if they returned inside.
After interviewing some folks in a mosque (more on that at a later date), we decide to venture into a gas station to see how the manager is faring with the crisis. We're walking after we park the car and I'm startled by nearby gunfire. Abu Talat doesn't even flinch.
"You're not even going to look," I ask him.
"Why? This is nothing for me anymore," he says back smiling, "This is the freedom of Iraq!"
Riyad Atoush sits slumped behind his old desk in a small office. Beeping cars impatiently wait outside for their chance at the pump.
"We stay open from 6am to 6pm every day," he tells me, "But yesterday we closed at 4pm since we ran out of fuel."
They normally get two tanker trucks each day, each one holding 32,000 liters of the now precious liquid, but today only one showed up.
"There is a rumor that the government will be raising the prices at the pumps," adds Mr. Atoush, "But for now we just continue to ration the fuel; even plates one day, odd the next, 30 liters (7.5 gallons) per vehicle."
He concludes by saying that they hope to receive three tankers per day soon; that is if there are no more attacks on pipelines or stolen tanker trucks.
Back on the streets it is the usual cacophony of honking traffic jams, rumbling choppers overhead, and Iraqi and US soldiers on the streets.
We sit in a traffic jam and I notice a small child next to us.
He is peering out at an Iraqi soldier
standing with his Kalashnikov on the other side of our car.
More writing, photos and commentary at
(c)2004 Dahr Jamail.
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