I'm learning about bureaucracy in post-war Iraq. People work but perhaps not as hard as they once did. At least not at the Ministry of Health.
|THOMAS JAMES HURST / THE SEATTLE TIMES
|Reporter Hal Bernton makes some notes the old-fashioned way recently in Baghdad.
Yesterday morning, I ventured over to the ministry to get permission to visit a state-run facility. The building sits on a boulevard directly across from what once was the Ministry of Defense -- a building that was bombed heavily during the U.S. invasion. But the Ministry of Health was spared, and on the first floor there were hundreds of people milling about the lobby.
My translator informed me that most people were looking for work, hoping to land a government salary -- about $120 a month. That may sound like an appreciable boost from the salaries under Saddam Hussein, which often hovered around a paltry $5 or less a month. But with inflation skyrocketing, some workers I talked to said their new salary buys even less today.
While we were cleared for our upcoming visit, an official I had hoped to interview was not available. So we returned about 2 o’clock that afternoon.
Too late, a guard at the gate told us. The whole building already had emptied out. My translator explained to me that many bureaucrats used to work from 8 to 3 p.m., with some staying later. But now, most clear out at 2, and some just show up once a week to ensure that they can still draw their salary.
Air that burns
The safest time to move about Baghdad is during the day, but, of course, that's when traffic is most severe.
With some roads blocked off due to security reasons, and a general increase in cars since the end of war, it can be bumper to bumper for miles on end.
And with so many aging cars and buses, some of which are avid consumers of oil as well as gas, the air pollution can be intense -- eye tearing and throat searing.
The Palestine Hotel
The hotel seems to be full of business people and security teams. The other day I rode up in the elevator with three muscle-bound guys wearing jogging shorts and T-shirts, with machine guns hanging from their side. Not sure just where they had been, or where they were from but a lot of security guys here come from Great Britain -- ex-military types who have plenty of experience in Northern Ireland. That resume seems to give them an edge in securing jobs here in Iraq.
The hotel has been a great spot to hang out at for a few days, with a complimentary breakfast buffet that offers a curious mixture of hot dogs, cheeses, sweet jams made from pumpkin, figs and apricots, and hard rolls of all sizes.
The hotel is a sanctuary, a great place to wake up in Baghdad. But we are about to head south now, to a new city, a new place of unknowns.