Alissa J. Rubin, The Times’s Baghdad Bureau Chief, is on her fourth tour of Iraq since 2003. She was there when the country stopped flights in and out in mid-March to slow the coronavirus and declared a lockdown for all but trips to markets and doctors, or for short walks. We asked her to tell us about life in Iraq since then.
It is dusk, my favorite hour except for dawn, and the muezzin is singing the evening prayer. There will be one more prayer, at about 8:30. These two prayers (for me) are the most beautiful of the day. No matter the temperature, hot or cold, I open my windows to hear them.
Now the mosques are empty, and the religious authorities have closed the shrines to keep people from gathering in large groups. It was a hard step for the clerics to take; mosques stayed open even during the United States-led invasion.
I often walk at this hour along the Tigris. The families that used to spread their blankets on the strip of park next to the river no longer picnic, and the hawkers of cheap biscuits and orange soda have all gone home. So the silence of this twilight walk makes for a sad if peaceful interlude. Soon it will be too hot for walking even at night, but for now the evenings are soft.
Baghdad, a city of about seven million, is usually a cacophony. The infrastructure is dilapidated and litter lies in heaps, but the city had been defiantly alive. Until the curfew, the streets were a jumble of armored vehicles, cheap Iranian-made taxis and the occasional horse-drawn cart.
In this city, life happened mostly outside. At dusk the streets were crowded with shoppers, kids kicking soccer balls, and men playing dominoes on flimsy card tables. Not anymore.
Even in the worst days of the 2003 war, when the Americans were bombing, it was hard for people to stay inside. But the invisible enemy of the virus — which has claimed about 1,400 Iraqi lives — has hit people’s nerves differently. They are staying home because they are afraid.