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Iraqis say U.S. blackout no comparison to their prolonged outage

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A power generator hummed in the corner of a popular Baghdad menswear shop where Leith Tamimi sat smirking Friday as he listened to news of the massive electrical blackout that plagued the Northeastern United States for the second day.

"It's not in Iraqi nature to be happy when someone is suffering, but I thank God for allowing them to see how we live," Tamimi said. "I saw Americans on TV and they were enraged. If they were enraged after two days without power, how do they think we feel after four months?"

Iraqis, who have endured widespread power outages since the U.S.-led war ended in April, expressed little sympathy for the Americans who got a dose of life without lights or air conditioning—or water, for some—when a major electricity grid shut down Thursday afternoon.

Baghdad residents gloated over stories of New Yorkers stuck in subways and some seemed disappointed that power was restored Friday in large swaths of the affected area. Many Iraqis said they believed the blackout was a gift from God to show Americans the hardships of life without electricity and, they hoped, to speed up coalition efforts to bring electricity back to Iraq.

"Imagine how we've been waiting here for electricity," said Talib Alrubaiyi, a 54-year-old English teacher. "I don't want to hear about Americans complaining over two little days. Their power is back, but how long will we wait?"

A group of Iraqi retirees packed away their backgammon game at dusk, when it became too dark too see at their favorite outdoor cafe. The men—former professors and government workers—laughed at President Bush's speech urging patience for Americans anxious to get back to life with streetlamps, traffic lights and elevators.

"We had electricity today for only two hours, which is about normal for us," said Ibrahim al Shadidi, 52, who used to work in the oil ministry. "But look, America turns upside down when it loses electricity for a few hours."

Faiza Hassan, 43, hasn't used her washing machine or kept meat in her freezer in four months because the electricity is so sporadic. Still, she said, she prayed Friday for Americans caught in the blackout.

"We are all human beings," Hassan began, before her 20-year-old daughter rolled her eyes and interrupted.

"Mom, I don't care. They deserve it," Sonia Abdirahman said. "God is punishing them now. I hope they are never able to fix their power. In fact, I hope it spreads to all the states."

Along a candlelit row of boutiques Friday, shopkeepers counted their earnings by hand next to unplugged electric cash registers and said they hadn't heard a word about the American power outage. Smiling, they pointed at small TV sets plugged into lifeless sockets and shrugged.

One shop owner, 42-year-old Salam al Khafaji, refused to believe that "mighty America" could succumb to the same problems that have halved his income because meat and dairy products spoil before they sell in his neighborhood market.

"It's impossible that they don't have electricity," Khafaji said. "Are you sure power is out for the Americans? Maybe they just made it look like that to make Iraqis feel better."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): blackout-iraq