The new economy of catastrophe
real change. When
that crisis occurs,
that are taken depend
the ideas that are lying around.
dad on assignment
I paid an early-morning
a mostly Shiite area. An Iraqi colleague had heard that part of
had flooded the night before, as it did regularly. When we
arrived, the streets were drenched
in slick green-blue
liquid that was bub-
bling up from sewage pipes beneath
asphalt. A family invited us
to see what the frequent floods had done to their once lovely home. The walls
were moldy and cracked, and every item-books,
in the algae-like scum. Out back, a walled garden was a fetid swamp, with a
child's swing dangling forlornly from a dead palm tree. "It was a beautiful gar-
Yassin, the owner, told us. "I grew tomatoes."
For the frequent
flooding, Yassin spread the blame around.
who spent oil money on weapons instead of infrastructure
the Iran-Iraq War. There
was the first Gulf War, when U.S. missiles struck
a nearby electricity
out power to the sewage-treatment
cility. Next came the years of U.N. sanctions,
when city workers could not
replace crucial parts of the sewage system. Then
there was the 2003 inva-
sion, which further fried the power grid. And, more recently, there were com-
panies like Bechtel and General
Electric, which were hired to fix this mess,
and which failed.
the corner, a truck was idling with a large hose down a manhole.
"The most powerful vacuum loader in the world," it advertised,
on its side. Yassin explained
that the neighbors
had pooled their money to
pay the company
to suck away the latest batch of sludge, a costly and tem-
The mosque had helped,
too. As we drove away, I noticed
that there were similar private vacuum trucks on every other block.
Later that day I stopped by Baghdad's world-famous
Green Zone. There,
of living without
addressed by private
actors. The difference
in the Green
Klein's most recent article for
"Baghdad Year Zero,"
which this essay
just published by Metropolitan