Sandstorm Delays Meeting on Iraqi Constitution A sandstorm sweeping through Baghdad has all but shut down the city, sending residents scurrying for shelter. Madeleine Brand talks with Alissa Rubin, Baghdad co-bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times, about the effects of the storm, which has also delayed a critical meeting of officials drafting Iraq's interim constitution.
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Sandstorm Delays Meeting on Iraqi Constitution

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Sandstorm Delays Meeting on Iraqi Constitution

Sandstorm Delays Meeting on Iraqi Constitution

Sandstorm Delays Meeting on Iraqi Constitution

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A sandstorm sweeping through Baghdad has all but shut down the city, sending residents scurrying for shelter. Madeleine Brand talks with Alissa Rubin, Baghdad co-bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times, about the effects of the storm, which has also delayed a critical meeting of officials drafting Iraq's interim constitution.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now to Baghdad, which was struck yesterday by a massive sandstorm caused by a pressure system in the desert west of the city. Iraqis woke up under eerie orange skies. The sandstorm choked roads, and hundreds of people were treated for respiratory problems. I'm joined from Baghdad by Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times.

And, Alissa, describe the scene for us. What does it look like?

Ms. ALISSA RUBIN (Los Angeles Times): Well, it's actually much better today. Yesterday was really the worst day. Yesterday when I woke up, I thought it was dawn because it was sort of a reddish-orange sky. And I thought I was seeing the sunrise. But, in fact, it was about 8:00 in the morning and the sky was still very dark, as if it were dawn, and it stayed that way for another couple of hours and then it lightened a little but not much. You really couldn't see more than a few meters. And even today, which we all thought was much better--in fact, when I was crossing one of the bridges over the Tigris--and you really could barely see the buildings on the other side from one side of the Tigris to the other. So it's still quite a thick dust storm that we're seeing.

BRAND: Well, what's it like to be outside? It must be very hard to breathe.

Ms. RUBIN: Well, it's a little bit difficult, but people, you know, are creatures of habit and there are lots of people doing, you know, kind of what they always do. And I've even seen people running and children playing. And it really seems to be--I think it's probably hit the elderly the most, you know, because they're always more vulnerable to heat, to respiratory troubles, that sort of thing.

BRAND: This is an annual occurrence, I understand, but you've been there for more than two years. I understand that this is a particularly bad sandstorm.

Ms. RUBIN: Yes. I have not seen anything which quite so drastically cut visibility. I mean, we've had no flights the past two days. I'm not sure if there'll be flights tomorrow. I mean, it clears up a bit towards evening and it's much better now than it was, say, at midday, but it pretty much immobili--yesterday, it completely immobilized the city. Lots of people did not go to work. It sort of slowed down all commerce. And I have not seen anything like this, though I'm sure that they do have sandstorms periodically like this. It seems like everyone has commented on how severe it is. It's also particularly severe for the season. Usually, sandstorms are in the sort of late spring or sometime in the sort of early fall, September, but not August, not July. There were some also at the end of July that were quite unseasonable.

BRAND: And a meeting on Iraq's draft constitution was pushed back because of this storm. Will this have an impact on the August 15th deadline?

Ms. RUBIN: I think we don't know yet. I wouldn't be surprised if it slipped by a few days. They've had this storm. They have lots of different people that need to be consulted. They have this sort of natural disaster clause that they can invoke now with the sandstorm. And I'm not sure if everybody even got here today. I know some people were coming down from Kurdistan from the north. And I'm sure there were no flights today, and it's too dangerous to take the roads. So I would not be surprised if it slipped by at least a few days.

BRAND: Alissa Rubin is co-bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in Baghdad. Thanks, Alissa.

Ms. RUBIN: Thank you.

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