Discontent Surges in Iraq
By Hamza Hendawi
The Associated Press
Baghdad - In the depths of a strangely cold winter in the Middle
East, Iraqis complain that the lights are not on, the kerosene heaters
are without fuel and the water doesn't flow - and they blame the
And with the war nearing its fifth anniversary, Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki is feeling the discontent as well from the most
powerful political centers in the majority Shiite community.
It's a pincer movement of domestic anger that yet again could
threaten al-Maliki's hold on his Green Zone office.
"Where's the kerosene and the water?" asked Amjad Kazim, a
56-year-old Shiite who lives in eastern Baghdad. "We hear a lot of
promises but we see nothing."
Little kerosene is available on the state-run market at the
subsidized price of $0.52 a gallon. But the fuel can be found on the
black market, where it goes for more than $3.79 a gallon.
Overnight temperatures since the first of the year have routinely
fallen below freezing when normally they only dip into the upper 30s
An average household needs at least 1.32 gallons a day to stay
warm, which translates into a monthly expense of $150, or half what an
average Iraqi earns.
"I have had no electricity for a week, and I cannot afford to buy
it from neighborhood generators," said Hamdiyah Subeih, a 42-year-old
homemaker from Baghdad's Shiite Baladiyat district. "I would rather
live in Saddam Hussein's hell than the paradise of these new leaders."
Even during the shortages of last summer's heat, most Iraqi's were
counting on electricity for air conditioners, fans and refrigeration
about half the day. Now it's off for days at a stretch in many areas
and on only a few hours daily on average, residents say.
"My children are so happy when the power comes back on they
dance," said Marwan Ouni, a 34-year-old college teacher from Tikrit,
Saddam's hometown north of Baghdad. "For me, the nonstop power cuts
have made my life tedious. It's depressing."
That's the view from below, despite a considerable reduction in
violence across the country. The view among those who hold power here
is growing equally bilious.
Stinging criticism late last week from Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader
of parliament's largest Shiite bloc, was a stark break with the past.
And a threat by Muqtada al-Sadr, the maverick Shiite cleric who once
supported al-Maliki, not to renew an expiring six-month cease-fire he
imposed on his feared militia could upend recent security progress.
In admonishing tones, al-Hakim called on the government and
parliament not to be "entirely focused on political rivalries at the
expense of the everyday problems faced by Iraqis." He also demanded
that lawmakers quickly adopt key legislation divvying up the country's
oil wealth and setting the rules for provincial elections to be held
later this year.
He spoke of administrative and financial corruption, saying Iraqis
were now forced to pay bribes to get business done with ministries and
"It makes one's heart bleed ... it's a violation of man's freedom
and dignity," he told tens of thousands of supporters in Baghdad on
Al-Hakim's harsh words carry considerable weight because his
party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, is al-Maliki's most
important backer after al-Sadr pulled ministers loyal to him from the
Cabinet last year and took his 30 lawmakers out of the Shiite bloc.
Al-Hakim's focus on the daily hardships of most Iraqis finds a
ready audience among those struggling to keep warm through one of the
coldest winters in years - it snowed across Baghdad for the first time
in living memory on Jan. 11. And al-Sadr's huge following among more
radical Shiites could close the pincer on al-Maliki.
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