Monday, July 30, 2007

Perspective: In Baghdad, the search for ice becomes a deadly struggle

Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad's underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.

With electricity reaching most homes for just a couple of hours each day, the poor hand over soiled brown dinars for what has become a symbol of Iraq's steady descent into a more primitive era and its broken covenant with leaders, domestic and foreign. In a capital that was once the seat of the Islamic Caliphate and a center of Arab worldliness, ice is now a currency of last resort for the poor, subject to sectarian horrors and gangland rules.

In Shiite-majority Topci, icemakers say that Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi army militia issued a diktat on the first day of summer ordering vendors to set a price ceiling of 4,000 dinars, or $3, per 25-kilogram, or 55-pound, block of ice - 30 percent less than they charge in areas outside Mahdi army control.

Everyone complied, delivering an instant subsidy to the veiled women and poor laborers who are the radical Shiite cleric's natural constituency. The same price is enforced in his other power bases, like Sadr City.

Some suppliers are horrified.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune