Skip to main content
Part of international coverage of

War-scarred Baghdad places little faith in U.S. election

By Sebastian Meyer, Special to CNN
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
An Iraqi policeman stands guard at a checkpoint in central Baghdad. It has been 10 months since U.S. combat troops left, but it is far from peace time in Iraq. An Iraqi policeman stands guard at a checkpoint in central Baghdad. It has been 10 months since U.S. combat troops left, but it is far from peace time in Iraq.
HIDE CAPTION
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
Election 2012: Postcard from Baghdad
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. troops withdrew last year, but the violence continues in Baghdad
  • Republican party still seen as the party of George W. Bush by many in Baghdad
  • Many who follow the election see little difference between Democrats, Republicans

Editor's note: Sebastian Meyer is a freelance photographer based in Iraq, where he is also the editor at Metrography, the first Iraqi photography agency. His work has been appeared in Time magazine, the New York Times, The Guardian and many other publications.

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Laith repeats my question back to me, chuckling. "What is the Iraqi media saying about the US elections?" He pauses, thinking how best to answer. "Man, the situation is so bad now, we only pay attention to staying alive." He laughs again.

An Iraqi journalist who works for several international news organizations, Laith tells me that he only narrowly escaped being killed by a car bomb the previous day.

"If I had been a few minutes late for work, you wouldn't be able to talk to me." Laith chuckles again like so many people do in Baghdad, a resilient, tough, warm laugh.

Sebastian Meyer
Sebastian Meyer

It's been nine years since the United States and its allies invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. And although the war officially ended when American combat troops withdrew at the end of 2011, it's far from peace time here.

Postcard: "Ignore us at your peril," Afghans say

Although violence in Iraq is down significantly since 2006 and 2007, bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations are part of everyday life across the country. The Iraq Body Count database estimates that seven people have been killed every single day by suicide and car bomb attacks this year. The bomb that missed Laith killed at least seven people .

At 6:30 a.m. the following morning, I'm met more with confusion than humor when I ask the same thing of a group of day laborers in the rundown neighborhood of Bataween. "We only watch football," says one man. "We don't care about elections."

In fact, only one of the workers in the group of 40 or so standing around even knows that there's an election going on in the United States.

Rayad Salam, a 25-year-old from Nasiriya, catches my attention. Like everyone else on the corner, he is wearing a generic threadbare soccer tracksuit, the ubiquitous uniform of the terminally poor.

Postcard: Athenians fear what follows U.S. election

Rayad came to Baghdad after graduating from university with a degree in Classical Arabic. He wanted to be a teacher, but couldn't find a job back home so came to the capital to work. Rayad makes 25,000 IQD day ($20) if he manages to find work, which he only does about three days a week. He tells me he'll take any kind of work, including the most dangerous job in Iraq: policeman.

When I ask him why, his answer is so universal it could have come from any one of the millions of Americans still suffering from the financial crisis: "All I want is a job so I can take care of my family."

He leans forward to tell me something else, but a middle aged man pushes his way through the crowd and tells me I'd better leave. The group standing around me is drawing attention to itself and we're now making a perfect target for a bomb attack.

Traffic squeezes its way around Baghdad's clogged streets, which are pinched every few miles by military checkpoints where bored soldiers lazily hold metal rods — nicknamed "Solomon's cane" — next to passing cars, in the hope they will "sniff" out hidden bombs.

Postcard: Should U.S. raise fist to Cuba?

The cars gridlocked in traffic make it clear that although Baghdad is still dangerous, it certainly isn't poor. Among the old and beat up vehicles are plenty of brand new Land Cruisers, Pajeros, BMW X series, and black Hummer H3s. These are not the armored versions that move in convoys from fortified location to fortified location -- they are the personal cars of the city's middle class.

In the evenings the city's wealthy roam the streets of Karada, in the center of the city, where the lights shine almost as bright as Times Square. Here you can indulge in handmade ice cream, or splash out on the latest European fashions. With oil exports in Iraq at a 30-year high (August's revenues were $8.4 billion), a lot of well-positioned people are getting extremely wealthy.

More: Get latest news at CNN Election HQ

Here there is a vague understanding of the two different candidates for those that watch the international Arab language channels such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Not surprisingly, Bush's party is deeply unpopular.

Toma Zaki Zahroon, a leader of the Mandean ethnic minority, explains that the "Republicans make trouble for the U.S. Republicans will create tension with the Arab world." Someone else tells me, "Obama is a peaceful man, but if Romney is elected he'll damage Arabs. I don't know his policy but when I see his face he looks like the devil."

The most nuanced view, however, comes from Sheikh Jawad Al-Khalisi, a highly respected Shiite religious leader: "There's not a big difference between Democrats and Republicans. I don't trust either candidate because they are both influenced by lobbyists. U.S. policy is actually against the American people. In 2003 Americans protested against the war, but they weren't heard."

Postcard: Why India longs for U.S. election

Baghdadis don't trust U.S. politicians, but neither do they trust their own. "The government is full of thieves," 23-year-old Karar tells me in his home in Hurriya, a dangerous neighborhood in northwest Baghdad. Corruption, in fact, is what most Baghdadis talk about when they talk politics. Iraq's parliament is in a constant state of dysfunction; warring coalitions block each other at every turn and assassinations and police brutality are used as political tools.

Karar doesn't care for politics. He's a college kid whose life is dominated by working, studying, and just surviving. A year ago he was injured in a bomb attack in his neighborhood and then just a few weeks ago another bomb went off near his house, killing three of his friends.

Karar tells me all of this in a very matter-of-fact way, and I ask him why he seems so unaffected by it. "I feel sad. I'm so sorry about their families. But what can I do? This is normal for us. If you see your friend today, you don't see him tomorrow." As he pauses, the electricity cuts out and the ceiling fan stops turning.

Even with the oil exports, new cars, and imported fashions, basic services in Baghdad are still terrible. On average Baghdadis receive eight to 12 hours of national electricity a day, which makes life in the summer -- when temperatures easily reach 120 degrees -- almost unbearable.

Even in September, once the ceiling fan has stopped rotating, the room immediately begins to heat up. Karar gestures at everyone sitting in the room sweating and he finally answers my question about what he thinks of the U.S. election. "I don't think that a change of American presidents will have any effect on Iraq," he says and then a huge grin spreads across his face and he starts to laugh that unique, resilient Baghdadi laugh.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news in Campaign 2012 at CNN's Election Center. There's the latest news, a delegate counter and much more.
From Cuba to South Africa to Japan, people on five continents tell CNN what they're looking for in a U.S. president.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
The dead-even U.S. election race reflects the nation's deep political chasm across the country. CNN brings you the best election day pictures.
As Americans head to the polls Security Clearance takes one last look at some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the candidates.
They represent a sliver of the electorate, yet their choices on Election Day could make a difference.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Chinese artist and political dissident says the American system has flaws -- but that China's system is "inhuman."
October 10, 2012 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
Afghans fear the silence over the bloody 11-year-old war during the U.S. campaign means it is no longer a foreign policy priority.
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Memories of his father may be fading in Kenya -- but from the clubs to the teeming barrios for which Nairobi is notorious, his son is widely admired.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
A look back at CNN's election night coverage, going all the way back to 1980.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Hugo Chavez has endorsed Barack Obama, calling him a "good guy." Is there hope for a fresh start between the U.S. and Venezuela?
Predict which candidate will win each state and see who reaches 270 electoral votes first.
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
CNN's Tom Foreman explains how the Electoral College works and what would happen if there were a tie.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Nigerians were thrilled when a "son of Africa" won in 2008. The luster has worn off, but has any of it found its way to Romney?
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
If there's one thing that would have struck a chord with Hong Kongers, it was Barack Obama and Mitt Romney using China as a political punching bag.
October 23, 2012 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
China bashing has taken center stage in the U.S. election, where everyone seem bent on casting China as the bad guy.
Christian Amanpour says the chance to transform Afghanistan is slipping away -- and that the election won't make a difference.
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
Obama's "Yes we can" message has long faded away amid plummeting relations between the two countries, writes Masud Alam.
See where the nation stands on one of the tightest races for the White House in years. Follow the numbers as Americans flock to the polls.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
With the months-long campaign finished and the presidential election under way, CNN brings you the best pictures from the campaign trail.
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
For many in Iraq following the U.S. election, the Republican party remains the party of deeply-despised George W. Bush.
October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
After months of talking about each other, Obama and Romney finally go toe-to-toe. But do debates actually affect election outcomes?
Use an interactive map to explore the money game and the strategies of the Obama and Romney campaigns.
October 8, 2012 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Mitt Romney promises to take the U.S. back to a foreign policy based on exerting global influence through military and economic power.
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Brooke Baldwin talks to Erin Burnett about foreign policy being a major component of the 2012 presidential election.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
CNN fact checks Mitt Romney's claim that Barack Obama was 'silent' when anti-regime protests broke out in Iran in 2009.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Yanis Varoufakis says some Athenians fear Europe is waiting until after the U.S. election before cutting Greece loose from the euro.
Get the latest political news, campaign stories, and Washington coverage from CNN's team of political experts.
CNN's Security Clearance experts take a country-by-country look at the differences between the candidates' approach to foreign policy.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
Whoever wins the upcoming U.S. election will find Cuba in a state of flux, says Nobel Prize nominee Yoani Sanchez.
July 29, 2012 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem tell CNN which U.S. presidential candidate is better for their cause.
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
People in London step up to CNN's Open Mic and deliver their messages to the U.S. and its presidential candidates.
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Award-winning novelist Manu Joseph says there must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.
June 1, 2012 -- Updated 0604 GMT (1404 HKT)
Mexicans step up to CNN's Open Mic and offer their messages to the U.S. presidential candidates.
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
The U.S. election race conjures up images of mud flying through the air for many Japanese.
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
With the amount of campaign spending in the U.S. projected to exceed $6 billion, we look at how this compares to other countries.
ADVERTISEMENT