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.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?