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Iraq: Baghdad Dispatch -- Religious Leaders Have Strong Voice In The City

Baghdad, 25 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL correspondent Zamira Eshanova is in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Today is Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, and she reports that in large part it is the city's religious leaders who are providing the one clear voice of authority as communities attempt to bring life back to normal.

Question: What have you seen happening in Baghdad so far today?

Eshanova: All mosques are filled with prayers [today], and I went to one of the biggest, the Abu Khanifa Mosque, and there were thousands of people praying. And the main event, of course, is the imam's speech where he calls on Americans to leave the country immediately, as soon as possible. This is a Sunni imam, and he says they appreciate what [the Americans] have done, but this country could be ruled by the Iraqis themselves and he said, 'We will not take, we will not accept any government imposed by Americans.' So this is the speech, this is the message of a well-respected Sunni imam to the prayers today.

Question: Would you say that life is returning to normal in Baghdad, or is it still relatively chaotic? Can people still afford the basic things they need for day-to-day life?

Eshanova: There are a lot of disturbing developments in Baghdad.... prices of bread are going up and up every day, and the size [of the portions] is getting smaller and smaller, and again, the imam called on Muslims not to do this kind of thing when the country has millions of people who are in need of bread, of food.

Question: You make it sound as though many people are worse off now than they were before the U.S.-led war began, at least economically. What is the sense you get from Iraqis recently? How do they feel about the change?

Eshanova: There is a nostalgia already -- a nostalgia for a strong fist here. You know, it's very strange -- some people say, 'We hate Saddam, we still hate this regime, but during the regime we had security, we had order, we had law -- whatever law was in force -- but there was law. But now look at what's happening. Americans are guarding only the oil ministry and oil fields and don't care about the rest.