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Everyday errands amid everyday chaos

January 25, 2007|Suhail Ahmad | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — I was scheduled to work an afternoon shift Wednesday, so I had time beforehand for some mundane errands. Instead, I wound up on a nightmarish tour of Baghdad.

I first went to Mustansiriya University, where a pair of car bombs exploded Jan. 16, killing 70 students and injuring more than 170 others. I was hoping to get some documents for my wife. But when I arrived in my car at the main road leading to the university, it was blocked by Iraqi security forces. I took an alternate road through residential areas.

About 500 yards from the university's entrance, I heard sporadic shooting. People signaled to me and others to turn back. I rolled down the window and asked what was happening.

"There is a sniper who is shooting randomly!" someone called back.

I tried another road, and to my frustration there were two police cars blocking it. Several police officers stood with their weapons in hand. I parked my car and started walking.

At the university gate, there was little traffic except for police officers and security guards. One officer, dressed in civilian clothes, held an AK-47 and nervously looked around.

The sniper, he said, had killed one of his colleagues half an hour earlier.

After wrangling with red tape at the university, I walked back to my car and drove toward Canal Street. I figured the highway would be a quicker route to downtown and work.

On the way to the on-ramp, I heard more shooting. I reached Beirut Square and hit a traffic jam, with cars scrambling to turn around.

Everyone was terrified by the sound of rockets being fired. I heard six rockets or mortar rounds launched from behind a building facing the street. Several drivers jumped from their cars.

I finally reached the Karada neighborhood, an ordinarily safe, middle-class enclave. About 150 yards from the office of Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, I heard sirens and more shooting.

The gunfire came from uniformed security guards. They were apparently Abdul Mehdi's guards opening fire on a sniper.

Armed men sealed off the main and side roads. I was again stuck in a traffic jam, unable to move for 30 minutes.

When I finally got to my office, I felt disgusted and frustrated.

This was just my little day. But it's a day that everyone in Baghdad has, more often than not, just to accomplish the most ordinary tasks.


Ahmad works in The Times' Baghdad Bureau.

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