By Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD, Jan 23 (IPS) - While politicians deliberate over Iraq's future, Iraqis are dealing with the reality of the present. They are looking at the debris of a country where reconstruction has come to a standstill.
They are also looking at a situation in which the capital of the oil-rich country has been stricken recently by a dire shortage of gas and kerosene.
Iraqis in Baghdad had been receiving 12 to 13 hours of electricity a day on average over recent months. Over the past few weeks they say supply has fallen to just a few hours a day.
"We have no services at all," Usama Asa'ad, a 31 year-old mechanic told IPS. "Our electricity is on only one or two hours a day."
Many Iraqis thought the United States would improve their situation when the occupation began in April 2003, but those expectations are long over. Iraqis complain that the situation in Baghdad now is worse than it ever was under Saddam.
Electricity supply is inconsistent, and sometimes there is no water for a week or more at a time. After the recent increase in petroleum prices mandated by the International Monetary Fund, the situation has become far more difficult for Iraqis.
"The petrol price became three times more than before, and this makes everything in the market more expensive," said Abdul Sattar, waiting in a queue at one of the petrol stations in Baghdad. "I've been waiting for six hours in this queue and I'm not even sure whether I will get petrol. Yesterday I waited for seven hours but I didn't get anything. The petrol station isn't open at night because there is no security."
Iraqis continue to blame the United States and the occupation for the petrol shortages and the lack of security. President George W. Bush has declared that he would seek no more money for Iraq's reconstruction, further angering Iraqis.
"The water is not clean enough, there is no petrol for our cars, and the occupation forces intend this," said Usama Asa'ad. "They want to make all of Iraq's services for private companies, so that United States companies will take as much money from Iraq as they can."
Zubair, a 33 year-old engineer at the Beiji refinery says production at the refinery is steady. "The refinery is working now the same as before the war. We don't know about it (the petroleum problem), sometimes we hear that terrorists bomb the convoys, and sometimes we hear the petrol is taken by the United States army for their vehicles.. We don't know what is the truth."
Iraqi resentment of the coalition forces is caused by more than the long petrol queues. The failure of the occupation to rebuild Iraq's security and services, combined with recurring night-time raids have left Iraqis angry and cynical.
"Security is the most important thing we need now," Nora, a 25 year-old housewife told IPS. "We need to sleep at night with no one raiding our house. Would you believe, we wear all our clothes at night? You can imagine what it is like for them to bomb the gate of your house, and how you will feel when you have children like me."
Iraq's new government will be formed within the next few months. Most parties appear to be pushing for a government of "national unity."
Iraqis are expecting to see the new government make unequivocal changes over the consequences of the occupation. Usama Asa'ad says they also expect to see the government reconstruct Iraq, since the United States is ending its own aid.
"The United States troops occupied Iraq in twenty days because they wanted to do that, but they didn't rebuild Iraq ever since they came almost three years ago, because they did not care to do that."