Saturday, April 14, 2007

Baghdad seen through the eyes of its garbagemen

Mick Hartley, my source for this item, rightly draws attention to a proud claim by one of the Baghdad garbage collectors interviewed for the article below:
"Despite everything, we are the only service that has never stopped working from the fall of Baghdad until today," says Nuri with pride.
I have no idea whether or not this assertion is accurate. But this story offers one illuminating perspective on life in Baghdad since 2003. Some highlights:
Garbage collector Saad Kamal Farhud is always scared, dodging bombs and bullets to shift the filth of Baghdad for a pittance. Yet he says that things have improved since thousands of troops launched a crackdown.

"I'm frightened every day," says the 30-year-old driver who begins his daily round of the bins on the west bank of the Tigris River, picking his way through homemade but lethal booby traps and bursts of gunfire.

"No one taught me how to spot the roadside bombs but I've learned to pick out the trip wires that set them off," confides the married father-of-two, already lucky enough to have escaped one explosion. [....]

"Homemade bombs are often hidden under the bins or rubbish. So the insurgents don't want us to clean up and they shoot at our workers," explains 43-year-old Mohammed Nuri, an employee of Baghdad Municipality, who heads the rubbish collection in the district.

Another explanation left unsaid, however, is that at least many of Baghdad's municipal dustmen, like Farhud, are Shiites and some of the districts that they steer their dumpster trucks through are predominantly Sunni. [....]

"About half the equipment was looted after the fall of Baghdad. Things are difficult. Our trucks are old and there aren't enough," says Karim. [....]

Once the rubbish has been scooped up, the trucks head out to one of two main dumps outside Baghdad - Taji, 30 kilometers (almost 20 miles) to the north, and Husseniyah, 15 kilometers to the northeast.

"The road frightens us. When the situation is really too dangerous, there are temporary dumps where we dump the rubbish. But these days, with the security plan I have to say things have got a lot better," says Farhud. "We hope things will continue that way."
Read the rest.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Middle East Times
April 13, 2007
Iraqi dustmen collect wages of fear
Patrick Fort (Agence France-Presse)

BAGHDAD -- Garbage collector Saad Kamal Farhud is always scared, dodging bombs and bullets to shift the filth of Baghdad for a pittance. Yet he says that things have improved since thousands of troops launched a crackdown.

"I'm frightened every day," says the 30-year-old driver who begins his daily round of the bins on the west bank of the Tigris River, picking his way through homemade but lethal booby traps and bursts of gunfire.

"No one taught me how to spot the roadside bombs but I've learned to pick out the trip wires that set them off," confides the married father-of-two, already lucky enough to have escaped one explosion.

Farhud says that he has been fired on several times in Allawi, a neighborhood in the Karkh district in the heart of the battle-scared Iraqi capital where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the past four years.

"I used to live there ... I'm scared every time I go there. The people are weird. Some of them have come up and said: 'Don't come to collect the rubbish any more.' They don't want their district to be clean," he says.

"Homemade bombs are often hidden under the bins or rubbish. So the insurgents don't want us to clean up and they shoot at our workers," explains 43-year-old Mohammed Nuri, an employee of Baghdad Municipality, who heads the rubbish collection in the district.

Another explanation left unsaid, however, is that at least many of Baghdad's municipal dustmen, like Farhud, are Shiites and some of the districts that they steer their dumpster trucks through are predominantly Sunni.

It was sectarian warfare and militias cleansing neighborhoods into homogenous Shiite and Sunni zones that forced the United States to change strategy and divert tens and thousands of Iraqi and American troops to Baghdad.

But two months later, dustmen say that they no longer venture into some areas, such as the southern Sunni insurgent bastion of Saidiyah.

In violent Sunni areas such as Jamiaa, Ameriyah, Ghazaliyah, and Hadel, residents pay people from their own pocket to clean up the streets and sweep the litter, refuse workers claim.

Some dustmen's vans are accompanied by gunmen carrying Kalashnikov rifles. The municipal refuse collection headquarters is guarded by armed police.

"Five of our workers have died," says Talal Karim, who is responsible for trucks and equipment used by a team of around 400 people. "Recently one worker was killed by a mortar round while he was working."

"One of my colleagues was shot with four bullets six months ago," says Farhud.

"Despite everything, we are the only service that has never stopped working from the fall of Baghdad until today," says Nuri with pride.

Once the rubbish has been scooped up, the trucks head out to one of two main dumps outside Baghdad - Taji, 30 kilometers (almost 20 miles) to the north, and Husseniyah, 15 kilometers to the northeast.

"The road frightens us. When the situation is really too dangerous, there are temporary dumps where we dump the rubbish. But these days, with the security plan I have to say things have got a lot better," says Farhud. "We hope things will continue that way."

Iraqi and US military officials say that execution-style killings have fallen in Baghdad since the crackdown was launched February 14.

US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said that such killings were down 60 percent between "the last week of March and first [week of] April", compared to a similar period of the month before.

Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim Atta Mussawi has said that an average of eight bodies are found on a daily basis compared to the dozens of handcuffed and blindfolded corpses of men riddled with bullets found everyday on Baghdad's streets before the crackdown.

But there is little prospect of improvement on the financial front. Farhud, who has three hungry mouths to feed, earns 168,000 Iraqi dinars ($130) a month for working from 7.00 am until 2.00 pm six days a week.

"That doesn't give me much to live on. Sometimes I need to pay 4,000 dinars to get to work," because he lives in Shuala in northern Baghdad.

Working conditions are poor. There are no showers for the workers and the equipment is outdated.

"About half the equipment was looted after the fall of Baghdad. Things are difficult. Our trucks are old and there aren't enough," says Karim.

Overflowing rubbish dumps littered across wasteland, raw sewage, and people setting fire to trash have become common sights in Baghdad.

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