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Baghdad by Night

NPR Baghdad producer JJ Sutherland sends this dispatch from the dark side.

I get a call the other night. They've found four more bodies in western Baghdad. They're bound, hands and feet. They're blindfolded. They've been shot in the head. Their bodies bear wounds from beatings and electrical burns, and someone has used a drill on their flesh. That's just one phone call. I get a few more. Every night it seems, dozens of bodies turn up, both Shiite and Sunni, often killed in the same fashion.

We spoke with a journalist recently who works for an Iraqi television station. For the last nine days, he's been sleeping at the office. He's been threatened with death because of his work and he doesn't want to bring the danger home to his parents and six sisters. He told the Ministry of the Interior about the threat. They told him to get a gun.

"Death is the simplest thing now in Iraq. A bullet in the head is nothing, especially against journalists. So crying and sadness are the norm," he said to us. Later he added, "I have been in love for the last four years but my conditions don't allow me to marry... not because of money, but because of how things are going on. There is no stability and you never know when a civil war will break out."

A friend of mine tells me today that he's bought weapons for his family and is teaching his wife, who hates to even hold a knife, to fire a gun. The day before yesterday, Sunni insurgents burst into one family's home. The husband was killed, and then they set his body on fire. They didn't bother killing the wife and four children first. They burned them alive.

My friend tells me this story and says, "I can understand someone who gets killed. I can understand beheadings. I can't understand burning someone alive." I'm stunned ... both by his story and by the fact that killings and beheadings are understandable. Burning people alive apparently violates some behavioral norm that says chopping people's heads off is okay.

It is becoming very clear to me that war can shatter a society and what it becomes as it puts itself back together can become a warped malefic grotesquerie — a social organism that eagerly eats itself alive.

At a press conference the other day, an American general said he thinks that Iraqis feel more secure. I think most of the Iraqis I've spoken with since I've been here might have a slightly different perspective.

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