Inter Press Service By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail* BAQUBA, Feb 27 (IPS) - Life has been bad enough in Diyala province north of Baghdad after prolonged violence, unemployment and loss of all forms of normal living. What could be worse now is the loss of hope that anything will ever be better.
In Baquba, capital city of Diyala province 40km northeast of Baghdad, it's all about staying alive. Most people have abandoned all projects and activities to sit at home in safety.
"The Iraqi government achieved nothing, just death for this poor province," Hadi Obeid, a now idle trader in Baquba told IPS. "If you look for rights, you will find death."
"People of this province are dead," says resident Luay Amir, who returned to Iraq in 2004 after living 16 years in Austria. "There is no sign of life to be seen. Faces are pale and lifeless, the city is desolate."
People in the city, he said, "have no ambitions, no dreams. When they see each other, they greet one another saying, 'good to see you safe'."
The lack of electricity, clean water, security and jobs is clearly taking its toll.
"People are deprived of everything in this province, and it's a miracle that life still goes on amidst this deprivation," Abdul-Ridha Noman, an employee in the directorate-general of statistics told IPS. "People here have no goal except to move from today to tomorrow."
Noman added, "But they are afraid of tomorrow because it might only bring death or loss."
Many people have fled the violence, but also the hopelessness. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to Syria by now. Many have gone from Diyala.
"They sold their properties to live away from terror," Abdullah Mahjob, a 51-year-old schoolteacher in Baquba told IPS. "And they spent their savings to make their children safe."
Ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, people in this city had dreamed of a better future for them and their children. Now, that's a broken dream.
"Life is destroyed by the occupation and its corrupt government, and people have reached a point where nothing means anything to them any more," local dentist Mudhafer al-Janaby told IPS.
"People are concerned about electricity because they see that the children need light because of the examinations. They search for fuel for kerosene heaters in the cold winter, and for their cars," local farmer Iman Mansour told IPS.
"They are concerned how they will find medicines for the sick. They need to find work and then get to it, but there is a curfew, and the militants are everywhere. How can an individual plan for a future while surrounded by all these troubles?"
Rather than save for the future, people are selling what they can to survive right now. Many have begun to build shops in their homes; some simply rent their outer walls to shop owners.
"These very simple shops are a substitute for the big market at Baquba city," says local resident Abdul-Latif Farhan. "Some people left their shops in the central market and opened these because of the militants and the absence of security."
Some with larger houses are dividing them into two or three to get rental income. One way or another, people are extracting all they can from their own resources; the world outside has little to offer.
And, most blame the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad.
"The government can easily reduce the suffering of these people by providing fuel and other necessities," grocer Fadhil Abdullah told IPS. "But instead, we all continue to suffer. There is no future for us."
(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)