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First day of summer in Iraq signals hot, violent months ahead

On the first day of summer the temperature has already reached 120 degrees F. in Iraq, with the hottest days yet to come. Faltering electricity, on top of violence and a political vacuum, has plunged many into deeper despair.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / June 21, 2010

Iraqis protest power cuts in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, for the second day Monday. Riot police in southern Iraq used water cannons to disperse protesters pelting them with stones Monday during a demonstration against power cuts as anger spread over the lack of basic utilities to fend off the country's searing summer heat. The sign at right, in Arabic, reads "No silence after today."

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Baghdad

The morning after a double suicide bombing of Iraq’s Trade Bank, employees working around collapsed ceilings and bent beams to pack up computer equipment and files say they are a day away from reopening the institution central to Iraq’s reconstruction efforts.

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Resilience is a way of life here. But between the attacks, faltering electricity which has sparked deadly protests, and the lack of a new government almost four months after national elections, Iraqis are dreading a long, hot, difficult summer ahead.

Iraqi security forces in Basra over the weekend opened fire on protesters demanding the resignation of the electricity minister, killing one protester and wounding two others. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for emergency measures to increase electricity to the port city, where temperatures are already 120 degrees F., to nine hours a day. In the southern city of Nasiriyah on Monday, protesters enraged over the power cuts threw stones at provincial council buildings, wounding 17 police officers and demonstrators.

In central Baghdad, outside the bank where two suicide car bombers struck on Sunday, the tangled blackened frames of parked vehicles were draped with yellow crime scene tape, indicating where some of the 26 victims were killed. Three of them were bank guards but most were passersby, conducting business at the beginning of the busy work week.

Parts of the suicide vehicles were flung onto the roof of the three-story bank. It was the second attack in a week on an Iraqi financial institution. An insurgent umbrella group that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq took credit for the June 13 suicide attack on Iraq’s Central Bank that killed 15 and injured dozens more.

Mohammad Shaker, the Trade Bank’s deputy general manager, says several of the departments, including the money-laundering investigation unit, had been damaged but none of the files lost.

“Tomorrow we will resume working with the Iraqi government and we will have the ability for full recovery in one week,” Mr. Shaker says as he supervises moving the bank’s letters of credit and guarantee operations to a nearby building.

Devastated supervisor

The Trade Bank, owned by the Finance Ministry, was set up by US occupation authorities in 2003 to provide banking services for business and reconstruction. The Finance Ministry has been one of the main targets of 10 months of devastating attacks aimed at destabilizing the Iraqi government.

In what had become an open-air lobby, piles of shattered glass lay in layers on the ground like snow. The guard trailer outside looked as if a hurricane had whipped through, tossing furniture and bending the steel beams. A calendar featuring a smiling baby clung to the walls.

At the bank, the casualties were guards stationed outside when the suicide bombers drove up to the metal barricade and detonated more than 80 pounds of explosives three minutes apart. Of 16 guards, three were killed and nine wounded, one very seriously.

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