The Iraqi government has more than its share of problems to overcome. Daily violence, an economy in ruins, corruption, sabotage, chronic gas and water shortages and almost no public services to speak of. So just a few months into its first year in office, what did most members of the nascent Iraqi government do? They took a month long vacation. This has not played well among religious leaders or the Iraqi people.

NPR's Corey Flintoff has more.


Baghdad, the summer of '06. How bad is it? So bad words alone can't describe it.

(Soundbite of Eye of the Tiger)

FLINTOFF: You need music, too.

That's a popular download on the Internet here. A Survivor song from the 1980s turned into a song about survival in Baghdad. Trying to get through your day with no electricity and no gasoline.

So what do you do when you have the summertime blues? You call up your Congressman, that's what.

(Soundbite of ringing telephone)

FLINTOFF: Nobody home at Fela Hanageb's(ph) office. He's a member of Parliament and a former minister of the interior. You'd think he'd be worried about this.

Let's try Humam Hamoudi(ph) from the SCIRI Party.

Unidentified Woman: The number you are calling is not answering. Please try again later.

FLINTOFF: Oh. Okay. Sorry. How about Dr. Maqmoud Uthman(ph) from the Kurdish Alliance?

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

FLINTOFF: Not available. I see. Is there someplace else I can reach him?

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

FLINTOFF: He's traveling. Not in Baghdad. He'll be back soon, they say. When, they don't know.

It's a common refrain in Baghdad these days. No doubt the lawmakers and officials are all meeting with constituents or with foreign dignitaries like congresspeople in the U.S.

Whatever the case, it didn't matter to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq. He issued a statement chiding the lawmakers for taking a break while the country is in crisis.

(Soundbite of chanting)

FLINTOFF: Sistani's words struck a chord with many Iraqis, including Muslem Majeed(ph), a 55-year-old government worker who's washing himself before prayer at the local mosque.

Mr. MUSLEM MAJEED (Resident, Baghdad): (Through Translator) What Sistani says is very true, because when the official goes abroad he doesn't feel the suffering of the Iraqi people.

FLINTOFF: Standing nearby is Hassan Jawad(ph), a writer and journalist. He says that even when they're in Baghdad officials enjoy luxuries that ordinary people can only dream about.

Mr. HASSAN JAWAD (Resident, Baghdad): (Through Translator) There's no electricity, but he's got a silent generator. There's no water, but he's got different kinds of mineral water brought in from Amman.

FLINTOFF: That's also the theme of the Imam's Friday sermon.

Sheik FADIL MUHSIN: (Speaking foreign language)

FLINTOFF: Sheik Fadil Muhsin is blind, but he can hear the sounds of black market corruption.

Sheik MUHSIN: (Through Translator) Now if you go out in the street, you hear the gasoline dealer ringing his bell, not afraid of the government. You ask him, how much does this gas cost? He names the highest price he can get. You hear the propane dealer banging on his propane tank. You ask him, where does he get it? And he curses the government. Where is the government?

FLINTOFF: The Imam berates the politicians with the worst comparison he can think of.

Sheik MUHSIN: (Through Translator) Look at their wealth, and when it comes to explaining themselves, they blame Saddam and his infidel party. We hope the day doesn't come when we say Saddam's regime was better.

FLINTOFF: After the sermon, Allah Al-Rubieh(ph) is indignant. The 32-year-old taxi driver says people's votes were worth plenty when the politicians were running for office, but they got cheap fast after the winners took their seats in Parliament.

Mr. ALLAH Al-RUBIEH (Resident, Baghdad): (Through Translator) Does God give them the right? Does religion give them the right? Does humanity give them the right to take a vacation and have fun when people are in these miserable conditions?

FLINTOFF: Of course, Mr. Rubieh could call them up and ask.

(Soundbite of ringing telephone)

FLINTOFF: Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

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