Life In Hell: A Baghdad Diary

In more than 20 trips to the ravaged city, TIME's Aparisim Ghosh has navigated countless perils. His extraordinary story offers a rare insight into the daily life of Iraqi citizens

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Welcome Home: Time Baghdad correspondent Aparisim Ghosh returns to the Iraqi capital.

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Nor has there been much progress on other security matters. The government's claims that several Sunni insurgent groups have responded to offers of amnesty have yet to be proved; some Sunni leaders say those who have opened negotiations are fringe figures with little sway over the insurgency. As for the jihadis, they seem unhindered by Forward Together. The Sadr City market explosion proved that the lull following al-Zarqawi's death was temporary. Suicide bombings have again become a daily headline. Many fit into a deadly new pattern: as crowds are drawn to the scene of the first explosion, a second device is detonated, doubling the toll. There was even a double bombing 100 yards from the main entrance of the Green Zone, the highly fortified enclave that houses the seat of the Iraqi government and the headquarters of the U.S. military. The twin blasts--one a car bomb, the other a suicide bomber--killed 16 people near some small shops where journalists emerging from the Green Zone on hot afternoons stop to buy cold sodas. Although the Green Zone is one of the most protected places in Iraq, the entrance known as Checkpoint 3 is one of the most dangerous. Last summer I and several other TIME staff members were fortunate to be just out of harm's way when a suicide bomber struck a kebab stand near the shops. The blast took the bomber's head clear off his body and sent it rolling down the road to Wisam's feet. He kicked it away dismissively.

Powerless to stop the killing, al-Maliki's government has also failed to improve the lot of the living. Crime continues to soar, especially the booming business of kidnapping for ransom. U.S. officials say as many as 40 Iraqis are kidnapped every day. Ransom demands range from thousands of dollars to millions; many victims are never heard from again. Services are a cruel joke. As summer temperatures climb to 120˚, there has been no perceptible improvement in electricity or the water supply. And at a time when people desperately need their gasoline-powered generators to operate ceiling fans and air conditioners, fuel has become scarce. The wait in a gas-station line can last all day. Last month the black-market rate for a liter of gas briefly reached $1--exactly 100 times the official price just before the war. My Iraqi colleagues are amused when I read them stories about Americans complaining of high gas prices.

High fuel prices have yielded one bonus: with more and more people keeping their cars at home, the roads are relatively free of traffic snarl-ups. It's typical of Baghdad that when something seems to get better--whether traffic or the ride from the airport--it's usually because something else has got much worse.

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