— More than two months after President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq, ABCNEWS sent out six news teams across Baghdad to document the dreams, despairs, dreads, and the sheer drama of life in the Iraqi capital.
With the daily news headlines recording rising casualties, public protests, and attacks on U.S. soldiers as well as Iraqis assisting coalition troops, the crews went behind the scenes to discover how the military occupation is affecting both U.S. and Iraqi lives.
Here is a day in the life of Fatin al-Rifai, a professor at Baghdad University, Sgt. Billy Foster from the 1st Armored Division, Stephen Browning of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Dr. Tamara McReynolds at a U.S. Army field hospital and Sheikh Qais al Khaz-Ali, a religious leader in a teeming Baghdad slum.
Baghdad, July 9, 2003, 6 a.m. : The sun comes up on Wednesday, July 9, the three-month anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
8 a.m. : The children of 24-year-old Prof. Fatin al-Rifai slowly start to wake up. The two boys, ages 8 and 10, toss and turn. Eight-month-old Malak (which means "angel" in Arabic) stirs, struggles and sits up in her crib.
Al-Rifai teaches English at Baghdad University, where her husband also works as a psychology professor. She says life in post-Saddam Iraq has not improved. "No liberation," she says, "It is a mess. Just a mess."
8:30 a.m. : The soldiers of 136 Alpha Company in the 1st Armored Division take turns sleeping in a small, dark room on the grounds of Baghdad's al-Kindi Hospital. The face of their leader, 29-year-old Sgt. Billy Foster, brightens when the door cracks open and three young boys poke their heads inside. The soldiers have befriended the boys. (They've even given them nicknames such as "CQ" and "Staff Duty", which are Army terms.)
The boys are a bright spot in an otherwise grim daily routine. The hospital the soldiers oversee is, they say, both corrupt and chaotic. "If someone brings in a family member to a doctor," Foster says, "and he doesn't save 'em, lots of times they come back and try to kill the doctor."
9:15 a.m. : Sgt. Foster struggles to understand the complaints of one of the U.S.-trained security guards the 136th has employed at the hospital.
The hospital's problems run deeper than language barriers, however. As he makes his rounds through the wards, he describes a medical facility without basic necessities. Corruption is also a major problem — this is supposed to be a free hospital but payoffs are common. "Sometimes the doctor just plain won't treat somebody because they don't have the money," Foster says. "On rare occasions, we gotta' lock and load and put a gun in a doctor's face and make 'em save somebody's life."
‘It’s Hard on Your Heart’
10 a.m. : Stephen Browning, who's taking a tour of the Baghdad International Airport, provides a striking contrast to Sgt. Foster's weary realism. "I personally believe," says Browning earnestly, "that there is no mission more important than the mission that we are doing here in this country today."
Browning works for the Coalition Provisional Authority. One of his chief tasks is overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq's crippled transportation system.
When asked about the common complaint — in both Iraq and the U.S. — that the coalition was ill-prepared for the rebuilding mission, Browning is quick with an explanation. "The coalition was prepared, I think, to do a different mission," he says.
Coalition planners were expecting to confront oil fires, refugee flows and weapons of mass destruction. "What we found," he says, "was that the government fell to pieces. That is not where we put our time and planning effort."
10:45 a.m. : While al-Rifai shops for food, Sgt. Foster and his men wolf down another meal before heading back to their base. At the same time, Dr. Tamara McReynolds treats patients in a U.S. Army field hospital — casualties in a war that was supposed to have ended more than two months ago.
"It's hard on your heart," she says, "to see your own people come in with injuries and die right in front of you." She treats not only U.S. soldiers, but also captured Iraqi insurgents. "It's a difficult situation to be in. But as a physician, we take a Hippocratic oath. And it's our job to take care of people — to pray for everybody and leave the rest up to God."
‘We’re Not a Real Government’
11 a.m. : Al-Rifai carries her groceries and her baby up seven flights of stairs to her apartment. With the electricity often out, the elevator rarely works. She says she won't let her children play outside because she feels it's not safe. Says her husband: "When I am walking in the street, I feel afraid. Maybe anyone [will] kill me any time."
At the same time, 29-year-old Sheikh Qais al Khaz-Ali, the top religious leader in a teeming Baghdad slum called Sadr City (formerly known as Saddam City), begins a seemingly endless series of meetings. With Saddam gone, Muslim clerics have, in many places, moved in to fill the vacuum.
Today, Qais deals with everything from cooking gas distribution, the election of school principals, and the distribution of medicine to clinics. A crowd of supplicants gathers outside the office, hoping for a brief audience. "We're not a real government," he says, "but people here trust us and when we advise them, they accept it."
12:15 p.m.: Sgt. Foster preps his men for a night operation. "We're going to be set up in an ambush position here," Foster says, pointing to a map. "If they try to turn around and avoid this, we light 'em up."
1 p.m.: A visitor tells Sheikh Qais that someone has just tried to assassinate another top religious leader, a man close to Qais. "What's this? What happened?" asks Qais. "This," he says, looking at our photographer, "should not be on camera." Then he launches a series of phone calls, searching for answers.
Moments later, Browning arrives at his office in one of Saddam's former presidential palaces. "I trust that Saddam never imagined that the coalition forces would be occupying one of his presidential palaces. But as they say around here, al-hamdoodillah' — thanks be to God."
‘The First Time I Was Really Scared’
1:15 p.m.: The call to prayer rings out at the mosque attached to Sheikh Qais' office.
A half-hour later, Browning receives an urgent phone call in his office. "What happened? What happened?" he asks. "OK Bob, then don't stay there by yourself. I don't want you staying there by yourself."
Browning hangs up and explains that the call was from one of his employees at the Baghdad railroad station. Looters were stealing fuel. When railway guards chased them away, the looters opened fire. No one got hurt, but Browning's colleague will return to the office anyway.
2:08 p.m.: Lunch is served in the al-Rifai house.
Meanwhile, Dr. McReynolds rests. It's not always this slow for Dr. McReynolds. The other night, 11 of her colleagues were injured when mortar rounds hit their tent. "I'll tell you what," she says, "that was the first time I was really scared." This day, too, will soon get busy.
5:42 p.m.: A soldier arrives at ER at the U.S. Army field hospital. He's been shot in the arm during some sort of accident on the base. He's wincing and moaning in pain. The doctors work on him, but McReynolds says the man will ultimately have to been sent back to Germany or the U.S. for more work.
6:25 p.m.: Another wounded soldier arrives at the field hospital — a female with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. She later dies.
7:15 p.m. As Sgt. Foster and his men wake up after another few stolen hours of sleep, Browning dines with his colleagues at the palace.
Meanwhile, with the sun getting lower in the sky, the needy line up outside Sheikh Qais' office. People in Sadr City say they would like their religious leaders to become a permanent government. They also say they want democracy.
The Sheikh says any new government should represent the people of Iraq — and he says he is sure the people will want a religious government.
Nostalgic for Saddam Hussein
8:09 p.m.: Al-Rifai's children watch television. It's almost time for bed, and they still haven't left the apartment today.
8:30 p.m.: Sgt. Foster and his soldiers play cards, betting with local bills that feature Saddam Hussein's visage prominently.
8:34 p.m. Al-Rifai's husband fiddles with the circuits in the basement of their apartment building, hoping to squeeze out some electricity for the evening. He runs into a friend who says he was the victim of a carjacking this morning.
Al-Rifai admits to being occasionally nostalgic for the days of Saddam Hussein. "Sometimes we wish that he would have stayed here. In spite of all the things that we were suffering." She warns that if the Americans stay here much longer, they'll be in increasing danger. "They will face serious problems here. So many Americans will be killed. I can assure you — because I know my people."
A half-hour later, as Sgt. Foster's men mentally prepare for their night patrol. They do what they can to stay relaxed. The clean their weapons. They listen to music. They pray.
10:35 p.m.: Al-Rifai's husband locks the family in for the night, using a hefty deadbolt lock.
11 p.m.: As the soldiers of the 136th set-up a road block, Sgt. Foster says he understands why al-Rifai might miss Saddam Hussein. Still, he adds, "You're not going to make everybody happy no matter what your job is."
Tonight, part of their job is detaining Iraqis caught out after curfew — many are angry and argumentative.
"I think that the more firm we are with them, the more respect we get out of them, to tell you the truth. They're used to having someone tell them what to do and when to do it. If they don't have that, I think it kinda' falls apart, their whole system. It's the same with my men. They all crave leadership, they need leadership."
As guns fire nearby, Sgt. Foster is asked whether he thinks the Army's mission in Iraq is one worth dying for. He doesn't know, he says. What he does know, however, is that he would most certainly die for his men.
ABCNEWS' Auzfar Deen, George Griffin and Mariam Shahin in Baghdad contributed to this report.