Baghdad Journal: May 7, 2006

I survived Fallujah, but the treadmill nearly got me. If you have followed any news from Iraq, you know the power here is only on for about eight hours a day, and that is on a good day. One grows quite used to the lights going on and off and on and off, and generators turning on and off and so on.

Nevertheless, I wasn't thinking about any of this as I was going for my morning run today on the treadmill (yes, wearing my hunky lilac sneakers). I was on about mile 2 when all of a sudden the power went out. The treadmill stopped, but I didn't. I launched myself forward in a manner so clumsy it defies imagination. Somehow I survived. Only in Iraq.

I don't mean to make light of the electricity situation; it is a serious, serious problem. In the summer here you need air conditioning -- the temperature gets up to 130 degrees, and that isn't some journalistic exaggeration.

On the subject of exaggeration, below you will see a Reuters snippet about a car bombing in Karbala, a horrific event to be sure. Reuters reports that 21 people were killed. It claims it got its information from the Interior Ministry. When we called police in Karbala, they told us five people were killed. And this evening, the U.S. military put out a press release saying that two people were killed.

Whom do you believe? What number do you use? Numbers are strange things here, and everyone has a different motive behind the number given. Karbala is a Shiite city, and the Interior Ministry is run by Shiites. Is it possible that it gave an inflated number to Reuters to make Shiites seem like greater victims? The U.S. military clearly has an interest in the situation improving here, so is it possible that it wants to use a lower number to make the attack seem less violent than it was? And the kicker is, we will never know who is right. Only in Iraq.

We heard some gunshots today not too far from the bureau, nothing terribly alarming. But it is that last statement -- "nothing terribly alarming" -- that requires explanation. The first time one hears "shots fired in anger," it is a truly remarkable and terrifying thing. My first time was in the desert outside Nasiriyah during the invasion in 2003. People started shooting, and I jumped into a trench and managed to get myself stuck. No joke. It wasn't particularly heroic, but I wasn't aiming for heroic at the time.

After that first time, your reaction changes some. I don't want to say you get used to it, but you start to learn a little about how far away the shots are coming from, where they might be headed and if there is anything you can really do to protect yourself. The other night, after I'd already gone to bed, there was some pretty loud, piercing automatic fire that woke me up. I remember thinking, "Wow, those shots are pretty loud. But you know what? I am probably safer in bed than anywhere." So I just went back to sleep. Sleeping is always the responsible solution. Only in Iraq.

An update on the office aroma: It is markedly better, I would say. Fox the dog moved his primary residence outside today. He now spends most of his time in our yard, rather than underneath our desk eating leftovers. We do miss him and will work out some sort of visitation plan. But I don't think I will miss the sensation of having him rub a six-hour-old, half-eaten lamb chop against my leg.

By popular demand, I have included the Reuters list of the day's developments. Believe me, this list is nothing unusual.

RAMADI -- A civilian was killed and three were wounded, including a child and a woman, in clashes between insurgents and U.S. forces in the western city of Ramadi, 110 km (70 miles) west of Baghdad, hospital official Aala al-Dulaimi said.

SAMARRA -- U.S. forces detained five suspects -- one believed to be a senior al Qaeda operative -- and killed an unknown number of suspected rebels in raids on Friday near the city of Samarra, the U.S. military said in a statement.

HADITHA -- Gunmen set fire to three trucks carrying food to the U.S. military in Haditha, 150 km (95 miles) west of Baghdad, a traffic policeman said. There was no information on casualties.

KERBALA -- A car bomb killed 21 people and wounded 52 near the central bus station in Kerbala, police said.

BAGHDAD -- Eight people were killed and 15 wounded when a suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi army patrol in the Aadhamiya district of the capital, police said. The casualties included soldiers and civilians.

BAGHDAD -- One civilian was killed and six were wounded when a car bomb exploded in northern Baghdad, police said. The target of the explosion was not clear.

BASRA -- Five people were killed and 42 wounded on Saturday during clashes between British forces and youths after a British helicopter came down in the southern city of Basra, the local health service said.

BAGHDAD -- The bodies of 42 people, many of them showing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad in the 24 hours from Saturday morning, an Interior Ministry source said. These included eight bodies found on Sunday at a garbage dump near the Kindi hospital in eastern Baghdad.

MAHAWEEL -- A civilian was wounded on Saturday when Iraqi troops opened fire in Mahaweel, 75 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. Details of the incident were unclear.

MOSUL -- Three policemen were killed when a roadside bomb went off near their patrol in the northern city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

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