POLITICS
03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

5 Years After Iraq's "Liberation" There Are Worms In The Water

Iraq's most prominent clerics have ruled that using a water pump on one's own pipes is akin to stealing resources from a neighbor, so what does a person do when it takes half an hour to fill a cooking pot with water from the tap?

Iraqis pray for forgiveness, then pump away.

To them, the real crime is that five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they still swelter in the summer and freeze in the winter because of a lack of electricity. Government rations are inevitably late, incomplete or expired. Garbage piles up for days, sometimes weeks, emanating toxic fumes.

The list goes on: black-market fuel, phone bills for land lines that haven't worked in years, education and health-care systems degraded by the flight of thousands of Iraq's best teachers and doctors.

When the Iraqi government announced that 2008 would be "the year of services," workaday Iraqis had their doubts.

"Under Saddam's regime, we had limited salaries but we had security and decent services. Now, we have decent incomes but we lose it all to water, propane, groceries, fuel. We save nothing," said Balqis Kareem, 46, a Sunni Muslim housewife who lives in the predominantly Shiite Muslim district of Karrada. "This government gives with the right hand and takes away with the left."

At Kareem's modest, single-story home, a wall in the living room sprouts a tangle of electrical wires, a reflection of the three power sources she juggles throughout the day: the government's supply, her own small generator and the neighborhood's larger generator. Even so, for five years she hasn't been able to keep milk or meat in the refrigerator for more than a few hours because it spoils so quickly in the daily blackouts.

A kitchen cupboard holds a barely touched box of rationed tea, which Kareem described as "so bitter no amount of sugar can sweeten it." She said that she'd once used a magnet to clean metallic flakes from a bag of government-supplied rice. She barred her four children from drinking tap water after she found worms floating in a glass she'd poured.

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