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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Iraq blackout

    Zakho, Iraq - Friday, Oct. 24

    In a fitting end to my latest spin through Iraq, the power has been out for the past half hour here in Zakho. Sitting in the dark is part of life in the new Iraq. (Thank Ataturk that I'm now close enough to the Turkish border to get Blackberry service...)

    While the security situation in the country deservedly gets most of the attention, the lack of basic services here is an under-reported crisis. Power outages are a regular occurrence in Baghdad, as well as here in the relatively stable north of the country.

    The electricity in Zakho comes on only after 5 p.m. each day. It's supposed to stay on until 9 a.m., but there have already been two cuts in the first six hours of that stretch.

    It's not just the electricity. Tap water remains undrinkable across Iraq and, judging by the state of my stomach, the recent cholera outbreak in the country may be more widespread than has been reported so far.

    Back in 2003, shortly after a wild-bearded Saddam Hussein was discovered in his spider-hole north of Baghdad, I went to a power plant in the capital to ask why electricty was in such short supply. The manager was short on answers, and embarassed to admit that despite the UN sanctions back then, the situation was better in Saddam's time. He blamed insurgent attacks on the infrastructure.

    I wonder what he'd say now. Because no matter how many U.S. soldiers leave or stay in Iraq, this oil-rich country won't be able to move on in the dark.

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