Comments and Impressions

As you all know, I’ve been dealing with spam in the comments, trackbacks, etc. It’s become a grueling effort to moderate these comments to keep out the riffraff. (Mind you, I’m not censoring anyone’s views. Everyone who legitimately wants to take part in the comments in welcome. Penis enlargement comments are not. If I have not approved your comment, it was almost surely a mistake and not maliciousness on my part.)
Anyway, I’m on a deathly slow connection here, which further complicates the comment-moderating chore. In addition, as of Wednesday, I’m on vacation for a week and I don’t plan to be online much. (Beirut awaits!) So as of tonight, I’m implementing TypeKey registration to keep out the cretinous spammers and to make my comment moderation easier.
You will need to register to leave a comments. Many of you have already done so. Thank you. After you’re approved, you won’t need to wait to see your comments show up and I won’t need to curse the heavens for slow net connections in my hotel, which — no lie — sometimes drop to 80 bytes/second.
(In the time it’s taken me to write this post, 31 porn comments have come in. I have to delete all of those. Like I don’t have enough to worry about.)
So that’s the story here with that. In other news, I’m having a hard time coming up with stuff to write on this blog. Everyday life in Iraq has stopped being something that I observe from a Western, outsider’s perspective and has become … my life. It’s what I do every day. So some impressions of a typical day.

  • Traffic, and lots of it. Much of Baghdad is a perpetual traffic jam in the middle and hottest parts of the day. It’s crushing, brutal and leads to hair triggers. On Thursday, the mother of all traffic jams hit because of the street battle on Haifa street, which left four Iraqi soldiers dead and at least 15 wounded. The Iraqi police wouldn’t fire on fellow Iraqis so they — rather uselessly — fired near the insurgents, hoping to “scare them.” Surprise! It didn’t work… Good job, guys.
    The reason I bring this up in the context of traffic jams is because I got caught on the edge of the battle when my driver’s car broke down after he forgot to put coolant in the car and it overheated. This little mishap followed his running out of gas in the middle of Baghdad because the night before he had been too tired to fill it up.
    He is no longer my driver, by the way. It’s not very cool being stranded on the street in Baghdad. While things are getting better, it’s still tetchy here for westerners, and my lame attempt at a beard is fooling no one.
  • The cops — despite their rather cowardly decision to not shoot RPG-wielding maniacs — are actually doing their jobs, especially the traffic cops. I saw one the other day writing a ticket for a guy who had the universal pissed-off look and aggrieved stance of everyone who’s ever been ticketed for illegal parking. I was so shocked to see a skinny little traffic cop earnestly writing a ticket to some young tough — and the ticketee actually standing for it — that I laughed out loud in delight. It was like seeing a unicorn.
  • It’s hot. I mean, really hot. You guys who complain that Riverbend doesn’t post anymore or berate her for not liking the heat, come on over here and stand around without A/C for days at a time. It’s getting up to 114 degrees F or so these days — in the shade. I’m lucky. I have A/C for a few hours at a time. Most Baghdadis aren’t so lucky, and they’re still frustrated over the electricity. And they should be. It’s been 15 months; it should be working now. And before anyone comes at me with the idea that Saddam starved the rest of the country to keep Baghdad in power, know this that you’re right. But from the Baghdadis point of view, they went from 20 hours a day to six to nine hours a day. Jonathan Thompson, the deputy director of the the Project Management Office, the umbrella agency that has to spend the $18.4 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction told me a while back, “Now everyone’s getting the same amount of electricity!” Great, that means everyone is getting the same crappy service. No matter how much you tell them that they’re better off, it still sucks. Think how NYC would be if it only got six to nine hours of electricity a day for 15 months. The Bronx would be in flames.
  • The new government has done a few things right — reserving the right to declare emergency law — and a few things wrong — supporting the Americans when they blow up houses in Fallujah and kill women and children. What its done right could still develop into a real problem for the government because it hasn’t bothered to actually declare an emergency anywhere and people still desperately want security. (Here’s a draft of the law.) There’s not a night that doesn’t go by that we journos in our little compound don’t hear some kind of rifle-fire, explosion or some otherwise nasty bit or ordnance.
    The wrong stuff is a catch-22 for Allawi & Co. If they support the American efforts to bomb Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi into submission — which inevitably blow up innocent people — they will lose what support among the Iraqi people they have now. Many Iraqis who had supported Allawi for his tough-guy bluster turned against him when he publicly rah-rahed the Americans’ bombing of a house in Fallujah, which killed at least 10 people, including several women and children. But if Allawi doesn’t support the American pursuit of Zarqawi — despite all evidence that most of the insurgency is made up Ba’athists and home-grown Islamic extremists — he runs the risk of irking his powerful patrons in Washington, who command what is still the only truly viable security force in the country, excepting the pesh merga in the north. Good luck walking that tightrope, Mr. Prime Minister.

  • Despite their complaining, I do see more Iraqis out in the streets and in the playgrounds later at night than I did two months when I got here. (Has it been two months already? Wow.) And some days the city feels positively normal. But all of us in the Tribe, as I call the journos here, are a little on edge because it’s a bit like some line in a movie. (“It’s quiet…” “Yeah, too quiet.”) It’s possible the insurgency is in a bit of a tiff at the moment, which could be a reason for the general downtempo of the attacks, or perhaps they’re just waiting for the right time for a spectacular attack. At any rate, Baghdadis don’t seem to be worrying too much, and it looks like they’re getting out more.

So those are some off-the-cuff impressions. I’ve been swamped with work this past week in preparation of my holiday, with much of my efforts going here. It’s a look at the hostage industry, and it’s my first byline in TIME. Vivienne Walt, the other reporter on this, did good work on the story of Muhammad Rifat. The story wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without her contribution. I plan to explore more on this topic, but by placing it the broader context of the financing of the insurgency. What other bad habits do these guys have that pays for their bomb-building? Should be interesting to find out, no?
Anyway, I probably won’t post before I leave, so in the meantime, enjoy your week(s) everyone.