Thursday, September 04, 2003

On most nights, by 10 p.m., the temperature has dropped as much as it is likely to, dipping, on a good night, to just below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The dogs, leaping to defend their colony in the river grass, start to howl. Sometimes, there is gunfire.

It could be worse. Running in a third-world war zone is often less jog than steeplechase. The area along the Tigris is a kind of Iraqi skid row, where the underside of Baghdad life often reveals itself. Thieves — affectionately called "Ali Babas" here — lurk in its environs, not to mention Islamic radicals opposed to Westerners.

This city has grown menacing and bleak of late. The bombings of recent days have given life a heavy feel. In the heat and haze, with the possibilities of death swirling about, it is not a happy time to be an American soldier.

Yet even on the worst days here, the city carries on, in the crazy, chaotic Middle Eastern way. Most Iraqis still show their friendly side. They insist that a visitor sit with them and share a glass of tea. A foreigner, even an American, provided he is not wearing a uniform, can go about the normal business of his life. He can even run.

But there are grim reminders of the constant menace. One night an American soldier at a checkpoint said simply, "Be careful, last night we found a guy with his head bashed in."

Its a good story. Read it all.

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