BAQUBA - Life in the violence-plagued capital city of Iraq's Diyala province
has become a struggle for day-to-day survival.
Heavy U.S military operations, sectarian death squads, and al-Qaeda militants
have combined to make normal life in Baquba, 30 mi. northeast of Baghdad, all
Movement from the city to another destination is extremely dangerous. Kidnappings
have become rampant in a lawless city where government control is only a mirage.
Lack of security and mobility have meant severe shortages of fuel, food, medical
supplies, and other necessities.
The central market in the city of about 325,000 has vanished. It is not just
the shopping that is gone. People used to meet acquaintances in the market to
socialize and sometimes do business.
The ongoing violence has ended all that. The market has become scattered around
city districts. Many shop owners have reopened smaller shops within their houses
and abandoned their business locations.
About two or three persons have been killed or abducted in the market daily
on average in recent weeks. This had started to happen even before the U.S.
military operation Arrowhead Ripper was launched last month with the intention
of targeting al-Qaeda forces. Now residents say it is much worse.
"The troops have closed all the outlets from the city, and never allow
cars to move," Amir Ayad, a 51-year-old assistant professor in the sciences
college at Diyala University told IPS. "To get my college, I have to get
a cart as other people do. It is five kilometers, and it is better than walking."
"For the final examinations, which were held, unfortunately, during this
period of military operations, students had to walk hours to get to the exam
center," Prof. Majeed Abid told IPS. "They were exhausted and sweating."
Animal-drawn carts have now become a new business in Baquba. Most of these
are drawn by donkeys, and each cart carries 10-15 passengers who pay two to
three dollars a journey.
"Every day I bring vegetables four kilometers by cart and pay 25-35 dollars
for this," 29-year-old Adil Omran told IPS. "For this reason, the
prices have increased tremendously."
"A tomato, which is grown commonly in Iraq, is usually around six cents,"
said Mahmood Ali, a retired teacher. "Nowadays, we buy it for $1.25. Families
now tend to buy one or two bags of potatoes [30 kilos each] because they cannot
afford the increasing prices of other vegetables."
Complicating matters is the already unsteady disbursement of salaries due to
the volatile security situation.
"Officials used to receive their salaries every month, but for a year
and a half now we receive our salaries only every 50-70 days," Kadhim Raad,
a 44-year-old official in the municipality of Baquba, told IPS.
"The staff at the Ministry of Education have not received their salaries
for three months because no money is available in the banks," Sara Latif,
an official in the finance department of the Directorate General of Education,
People are now looking for ways to leave this city of continuing violence,
delayed salaries, lack of jobs, lack of open markets, closed factories, no functioning
municipal work, and very little farming due to lack of water and electricity.
The average house in Baquba gets one or two hours of electricity a day. It
is not uncommon for three or four days to pass without a minute of electricity.
Most people have bought small generators, but lack of fuel often makes it impossible
to run these. Before the U.S.-led invasion, a liter of petrol in Iraq cost five
cents; today in Baquba it is nearly two dollars.
There are no functioning fuel stations. Instead, people buy 20-liter jugs.
"People have forgotten there is something called a petrol station,"
Hamid Alwan, a 46-year-old taxi driver told IPS. "The owners of petrol
stations sell the tankers of petrol before they are brought to Baquba to make
And all this is less than the biggest concern to find a way just to
(Inter Press Service)