Baghdad Journal: May 12, 2006

At city morgues and hospitals, the bodies come in by the dozens ... every day. Iraqis assassinated on the streets and in their homes.

Thaier Al-Ubaidi was one of them. He was a police officer in Baghdad -- dangerous work, but he wasn't killed on the job. He was killed last month on his way to buy dinner for his four children, the eldest, barely 14.

"A group of gunmen drove past in a car," said his brother Jasim. "They shot him five times."

"I took him to the hospital, but it was too late," said his other brother Firas. "It was his destiny to die that day."

Thaier was 37, a veteran of the Gulf War. He spent his free time praying, reading the Koran and raising his children. His family has his prayer beads still lying on the floor.

His son, Abdullah, can't be older than 5. "I hope my father enters heaven," he said.

His brothers say they don't know why Thaier was killed. He witnessed a murder the day before, maybe it had something to do with that. He was a Sunni Muslim, it may have been a sectarian killing. His family doesn't know, but they blame the culture of violence.

"It's all about hatred," Jasim said. "It is all based on hatred."

More than 700 Iraqis were killed last month. Thaier al-Ubaidi was just one of them. But, with a tear streaking down her cheek, his daughter Rasha said, "He was all I had."

So there it is. Not nice stuff…but not rare.

OK. I don't want to go to bed grumpy, so I will answer some more questions.

Do you sense any change in attitude from the Iraqi "man on the street" toward Americans or other westerners? Growing hostility or growing indifference?

Mostly, Iraqis just think I am Paul Bremer (former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority) and because of that don't like me. I had a member of the Iraqi Assembly once point at me and say, "Bremer." One of our translators would not walk near me on the street because he was afraid of being seen with Paul Bremer. No joke. But in general, I would hesitate to generalize too much. We don't get out on the streets as much as we used to, but insofar as we do, some Iraqis like us, some don't and many are afraid to talk to us at all. That has been fairly consistent.

Is the Iraq National Theater up and running? And if so, are they a repertory company or more of a booking house?

The Iraqi National Theater just started doing shows. But I am not sure about its schedule. Personally, I would like to see them do "Starlight Express," mostly because I don't think enough theaters are doing that show these days. Plus, I think this country needs roller skates.

What happens to Iraq as the U.S. scales down troops? Is full-scale civil war inevitable?

Ummm, dunno. I don't think anything is inevitable. But I do see a lot of fear here. I don't think anyone can really answer this question.

What are the top five biographies you have read to date? Defined as well-written, interesting stories.

First of all, this question is from my sister, proving that geekiness is genetic. Secondly, I am not going to list five because that is too boring. So I will list three in no particular order:

John Adams, by David McCullough. He makes an unlikable guy interesting. Plus Adams is from Massachusetts.

The Teddy Roosevelt books by Edmund Morris. They both have cool glasses.

All the books on Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. These books are like crack cocaine for people who read biographies. (OK, I don't really know what that is like, and I don't mean to condone drug use. So instead, I will say that they are like excellent cheddar cheese for people who read biographies. I really like cheddar.) The books are incredibly addictive and well researched and well written. The only problem is that Caro has written three volumes, and Johnson isn't even vice president yet.

A brief post-script: No fewer than four people wrote me to say that Hideki Matsui,of the New York Yankees hurt his wrist and will miss at least three months. I fully appreciate the correspondence, believe me. But I am a little concerned by the motives. Do people actually take me for the type of person who would rejoice in such news? Don't answer that.