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Hope eludes Baghdad residents

Quality of life diminished as violence lingers

BAGHDAD -- In the streets of Baghdad, people wondered yesterday what else could possibly go wrong.

In Karrada, a commercial district across the Tigris River from the city's fortified Green Zone, wreckage was smoldering hours after four car bombs exploded shortly after dawn, killing 17 people and wounding 20. Water sprayed on the resulting fires mingled in pools with the blood of the casualties.

On the north side of the city, in Shuala -- like Karrada, an area populated mostly by Shi'ite Muslims -- similar scenes played out after a triple car bombing that had killed 15 people the night before.

Around Baghdad, neighborhoods were celebrating the return of running water but lamenting the three-day drought caused when insurgents ruptured a water line north of the city.

And with the temperature exceeding 100 degrees, as it has every day for weeks, people voiced anger at the prospect of spending their third summer since the US-led invasion with intermittent electricity. Those with generators will be able to power air conditioners and other appliances; the rest will simply bake in the intense heat.

''So many problems are happening in the city," said Mohammed Sarhan, 50, a grocer in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora. ''Where do I start -- water, electricity, security, unemployment, or health?"

''This is not a life," Sarhan added. ''This is hell."

Also yesterday, US and Iraqi troops battled Al Qaeda-linked insurgents holed up in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least five suspected militants thought to be planning suicide bomb attacks.

Word also emerged that a senior Al Qaeda leader was killed in a US airstrike near Syria's border. An Internet statement posted yesterday and attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, said Abdullah Mohammed Rashid al-Roshoud died during fighting with US and Iraqi forces, the Associated Press reported. The campaign took place last weekend near the Syrian border in northwest Iraq.

Roshoud, a Saudi, had been number 24 on a list of the 26 most-wanted terrorist leaders issued by Saudi Arabia two years ago -- and was one of only three at large, the AP said. The Internet statement did not say when he was killed, but US warplanes carried out numerous airstrikes during an operation that targeted foreign fighters being smuggled into Iraq from Syria.

A gathering of representatives from more than 80 countries and organizations in Brussels on Wednesday was marked by statements of support for Iraq and announcements of programs to assist the country's nearly five-month-old government. The conference had been billed in large part as that government's debut on the world stage and an opportunity for its leaders to lay out their plans to rebuild the country.

In Baghdad, however, the government's performance was repeatedly cited in interviews as one of the many disappointing aspects of a year that began promisingly. Elections on Jan. 30 drew large numbers of voters despite the threat of insurgent violence. But formal installation of a government and formation of a committee to write Iraq's next constitution were delayed for months, and efforts to bring more Sunni Muslim Arabs into the process after they boycotted the elections continue to sputter.

''We sacrificed our souls and went out to vote. What did we get? Simply nothing," said Karima Sadoun, 56, as she stopped to buy vegetables at a shop in the eastern Baghdad district of Ghadir.

Baghdad's on-again, off-again power supply, while familiar, is no less maddening than in past summers, residents said. While statistics for May and June are not yet available, the amount of electricity generated in Baghdad decreased steadily through February, March, and April as nationwide supplies rose, according to State Department figures.

Baghdad's daily average of 854 megawatts in April was scarcely more than a third of the city's estimated prewar output of 2,500 megawatts a day.

Among Baghdad's many hardships, the lack of security surpasses all, according to those interviewed. In the four weeks after the country's Shi'ite-led government was finally installed in late April, car bombings carried out by the mostly Sunni insurgents killed more than 900 people across the country and sent fear through Baghdad's neighborhoods. After a brief lull in early June that coincided with the start of a security crackdown in and around Baghdad, the bombings resumed.

Also troubling is rampant corruption. The New York Times reported today that an Iraqi office investigating abuses of reconstruction money found that the Commission on Public Integrity has opened more than 800 cases of potential wrongdoing, yielding nearly 400 investigations that were open at the end of May, and arrest warrants issued for 44 Iraqi government employees.

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