Iraq: A nation where suicide bombing is a fact of life

The favourite time for suicide bombers to strike is about nine in the morning. There is the crash of a distant explosion and the windows of my hotel room rattle in their frames. Sometimes, I go to the roof and see oily black smoke rising above the palm trees somewhere in Baghdad. No city in the world has suffered so frequently from suicide bombers. Four bombs detonated in London, but this is becoming an everyday ocurrence in Baghdad.

Last Friday, there were no fewer than 12 attacks killing at least 28 people. The studied cruelty of the bombers gets worse by the day. Last week, a man driving a car packed with explosives blew himself up beside a US Army Humvee and killed at least 18 children playing in the street. A distraught man called Qais who was mourning his children said: "I have had to move from my home because I cannot bear to look at the place where my two sons - Ali was five and Abbas was six - were playing before they died."

It seemed it could get no worse. Then on Saturday evening, a bomber with explosives strapped to his chest blew himself up beside a petrol tanker in the truck-stop town of Musayyib south of Baghdad.

The explosion incinerated people walking in the market and visiting a Shia mosque. After the bodies were taken away, there was the usual debris of charred shoes, broken bicycles and pools of dried blood. The local hospital estimated that 98 people had died and 156 were injured.

Iraqis in Baghdad concentrate on day-to-day survival. Events such as the announcement yesterday by a special tribunal that it was laying charges against Saddam Hussein is of marginal interest. The former Iraqi leader is accused of ordering the killing of 140 Shia from the village of Dujail north of Baghdad in 1982. Their murder followed an assassination attempt on Saddam. Understandably people are more interested in those who died last week and will die in the weeks to come than in the dead of 23 years ago.

In the capital, many people believe the simplest way to stay alive is not to leave home. They cut their car journeys to the minimum. The streets are much emptier than usual. Many people with money have left the country. The main meeting place for Iraqi businessmen, frightened of kidnapping as well as bombs, is the hotels of Amman in Jordan. The same is true of much of the government. Ministers are notorious for their interest in foreign travel.

Staying at home is not easy. Much of Baghdad is getting only five hours of electricity a day. People must buy fuel for their small Chinese-made generators. But queues by the petrol stations are two or three kilometres long. As people wait in their cars, they are vulnerable to bombers targeting US and Iraqi government patrols. There is a growing water shortage, forcing people on to the streets to look for supplies.

There are other dangers. US troops treat every Iraqi driving a vehicle that gets near them as a potential suicide bomber. They fire on suspicion. Almost every Iraqi family I know has a friend or relative who has been accidentally killed by edgy American soldiers. Notoriously dangerous places such as the entrances to the Green Zone, which have been attacked so many times, are protected by elaborate fortifications of enormous concrete blocks placed in rows. These blast walls have become the grim symbol of the new Iraq.

For most people in Baghdad, poor, crowded into small houses, enduring 45C temperatures there is nothing to protect them. Their children must play in the streets because there is no room at home.

Sometimes, death strikes very close. I was in Arbil in northern Iraq in April looking at the news wires when I read that my friend Marla Ruzicka had been killed on the airport road by a suicide bomber who crashed his car into a US convoy when she was driving close by. A Californian in her mid-twenties, she had been trying to extract from the US Army figures on how many civilians they had accidentally killed. She helped poor Iraqis get compensation when their relatives were killed or their businesses destroyed. I remembered her frequent e-mails, gloomy or effusive, always affectionate, recording her small victories and defeats, and a final cheerful note saying she knew the danger of returning to Baghdad but not to be critical of her because she would not stay long.

It is not just the number of the dead and injured that makes the bombings in Baghdad so much worse than London. A single incident of danger is easier to endure than relentless attack and the knowledge that the bombers were here yesterday and tomorrow they will return again.

* The three British soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Amarah on Saturday were named yesterday as Second Lieutenant Richard Shearer, 26, from Nuneaton; Private Leon Spicer, 26, from Tamworth in Staffordshire; and Private Phillip Hewett, 21, also from Tamworth. All were members of the 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York