Iraqis Find Own Ways To Obtain Basic Needs

Iraqis Find Own Ways To Obtain Basic Needs
March 16th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraqis Find Own Ways To Obtain Basic Needs

Iraqis Find Own Ways To Obtain Basic Needs
Houston Chronicle
March 16, 2008 Electricity, food, water are scarce and often unusable
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy-Tribune
BAGHDAD Iraq's most prominent clerics have ruled that using a water pump on one's own pipes is akin to stealing resources from a neighbor, but it takes half an hour to fill a cooking pot with water from the tap.
So, Iraqis pray for forgiveness, then pump away.
To them, the real crime is that five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they still swelter in the summer and freeze in the winter because of a lack of electricity. Government rations are inevitably late, incomplete or expired. Garbage piles up for days, sometimes weeks.
The list goes on: black-market fuel, phone bills for land lines that haven't worked in years, education and health care systems degraded by the flight of thousands of Iraq's best teachers and doctors.
When the Iraqi government announced that 2008 would be "the year of services," workaday Iraqis had their doubts.
"Under Saddam's regime, we had limited salaries, but we had security and decent services. Now, we have decent incomes, but we lose it all to water, propane, groceries, fuel. We save nothing," said Balqis Kareem, 46, a Sunni Muslim who lives in the predominantly Shiite Muslim district of Karrada. "This government gives with the right hand and takes away with the left."
At Kareem's modest, single-story home, a wall in the living room sprouts a tangle of electrical wires, a reflection of the three power sources she juggles throughout the day: the government's supply, her own small generator and the neighborhood's larger generator.
Even so, for five years she hasn't been able to keep milk or meat in the refrigerator for more than a few hours because it spoils so quickly in the daily blackouts.
She said that she'd once used a magnet to clean metallic flakes from a bag of government-supplied rice.
She barred her four children from drinking tap water after she found worms floating in a glass she'd poured.
The family's home phone rarely works, though earlier this month a worker from the phone company showed up demanding payment for calls that they both knew she hadn't made. Like so many employees of government utilities, he wanted a bribe.
"I just got to the point and told him, 'Don't waste my time. How much do you want?' " Kareem said. "He told me, I paid him and then went on with my day. I'm practical."
As another scorching summer approaches, everyone has to improvise to find electricity. Those who can't afford generators have to grease the meter men to look the other way as they splice wires and steal more than their permitted amount of power. At most, they'll be able to run a TV set, a couple of fluorescent bulbs and maybe the water pump.
Of course, that's only when the electricity is on never more than five hours a day and typically closer to two.
"Anyone who says that solving the services issue will take two or three years is exaggerating. Iraqi cities need years of work and billions of dollars," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "The destruction that we inherited, which was increased by terrorism, makes the suffering of Iraqis very difficult. Ending this needs time and effort, but the prime minister is determined to start the work and, God willing, Iraqis will feel the improvement in the coming few months."
Militias filling the gap
Inreasingly, Iraqis are relying on militias and other armed groups to fill the services void. Stories abound of neighborhood militiamen commandeering power plants and forcing terrified engineers to flip the switches even during government blackouts, turning militants into heroes and further undermining the unpopular al-Maliki administration.
In some poor areas of Baghdad, militias or Iranian-backed charities have become the main source of propane tanks, food staples, garbage collection and other services.
"They always talk, but nothing is tangible so far," Karam Hussein, 60, a Shiite retiree, said of the government.

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