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Q&A: Daily life in postwar Baghdad

Scott Peterson is currently in Baghdad. He traveled extensively in Iraq and Iran before the Iraq war. Since the end of hostilities, he has reported on conditions there.

When you talk to individual soldiers, what's their state of composure given the recent attacks on US and British troops? Are they getting edgy?

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There are a combination of things eating away at the minds of American troops, as they pull duty in the scalding Iraqi heat. The spate of attacks is certainly raising alert levels across the country, but most soldiers in Iraq have been here for months, played critical frontline rolls during the war, and so are coping with the new stress.

There is another remarkable thing that you pick up when you speak to troops that have been here long-term. They are tired - the kind of psychological tired that accompanies taking part, surviving, and conquering in war, and capture of Baghdad - and then watching that euphoria dissipate as their go-home date has been extended time and time again. Many troops are now concerned about how they will cope when they return to the US, and are worried that their victory will be tarnished with the mismanagement of the post-war phase. As an occupation force, they are the only game in town, and are blamed for much that goes wrong.

Does the average Iraqi on the street believe the US will pull out before a lasting democracy or an orderly government is established?

The average Iraqi on the street remains unsure of US motives in his country. One officer told me today, about this mismatch of expectations, that most Iraqis believed that when the regime collapsed, the Americans would "drive up and park with the full American dream: a house, two-car garage, white picket fence and a dog." Instead, there is only one thing that Iraqis - nearly three months after the war - can point to as an improvement since the fall of Saddam Hussein: freedom of speech. Other than that, the litany of complaints is long, and that means the window of opportunity for the US to put together a credible interim government is swiftly closing.

How easy is it for people in Baghdad to get food and basic necessities for cooking, cleaning, and healthcare?

Chaos still reigns in terms of most public services. Electricity remains the most troublesome, as temperatures climb toward 120 degrees. Food is not as big a problem, but sporadic water, spotty power, and chronic insecurity means that few new jobs are being created. Lack of electricity has meant that some hospital emergency wards have had to shut their doors from time to time. Iraqis say repeatedly - and seem to believe - that the US chief administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer is "punishing" them for resistance to the US occupation, with the electricity cuts. The reality is that the weakness of the electrical grid, and sabotage, are thwarting efforts to put the system back together. Military engineers have met every day for more than a month to solve the problem - but Iraqis rarely believe that.

How would you describe life in Baghdad now for an average Iraqi? In the daytime? After dark? Do US troops go on even higher alert after the sun goes down?

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Life in Iraq has been hard since the start of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, but many remember when everything "worked" in Iraq in the 1970s. So, Iraqis spend their days trying to get by. Insecurity has changed their way of living, though. Iraqis have told me that they can't go out and buy shoes anymore, unless they travel - for safety - as an entire family together. And few venture very far after dark. US troops certainly go on a higher alert after dark, but with their night-vision capability, they have many more advantages than those who want to wage guerrilla-style attacks against them.

If an Iraqi wanted to travel to another Arab country, and had the means to, how difficult would that be?

Iraqis still have their old passports, and if those haven't expired, they can still travel to many nations in the Middle East. Jordan to the west by road is the gateway, since the Baghdad airport remains closed to commercial traffic. But that road is riddled with bandits - journalists' late-model GMC vehicles seem to be the target of choice for thieving gunmen.