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IRAQ: A desert storm

April 17, 2008 | 10:54 am

Dust_004

Iraq isn't known for its fine weather. Summer brings unbearable heat. Winters are cold, windy, and bone dry. And spring? That's the time for dust storms, like the one that blew in Thursday and blanketed much of the country in a thick coat of fine, rust-colored dust.

Flights were canceled, and visibility was nearly zero even for drivers as the wind picked up in the afternoon and the dust grew thicker. From a bridge leading in and out of the Green Zone, it was impossible to see the water of the Tigris River below.

"It looks like Mars outside," said one man in Yousifiya, about 10 miles south of central Baghdad. "I keep expecting to see the Rover picking up a rock with its claw."

Police in western Al Anbar province, which is traversed by a well-traveled highway leading to the Jordanian and Syrian borders, reported several accidents caused by the poor visibility. A crash between a truck and a bus killed three people and injured four, said Capt. Jamal Ahmed of the Anbar traffic police. "It was a big, horrible accident," he said.

Dust storm in Baghdad

In Baghdad, one enterprising young man was selling surgical masks for people to protect their noses and mouths.

In Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, the scene of frequent clashes between militia fighters and Iraqi and U.S. forces, the storm was heaping problems on overstretched doctors. They already are dealing with casualties from the violence, but the choking dust was sending them additional emergency cases of people with respiratory problems.

Doctors at Imam Ali General Hospital in Sadr City said they didn't have enough medicine to meet the demand. Medicine shortages are a problem across Iraq, where many people buy their drugs on the black market because of shortages at pharmacies. Many people in Sadr City, though, are poor and cannot afford black market prices. Fighting there has also limited their movements, making it harder for them to shop around for medication if they don't find it at the hospital.

The good news was that Friday's forecast called for clear, sunny weather.

While the choking dust kept many people indoors, it wasn't enough to stop Iraq's seemingly endless cycle of violence. North of the capital, a suicide bomber walked into a funeral and killed at least 49 people.

— Times Staff writers

Photos: Baghdad in the dust. Credit: Tina Susman / Los Angeles Times. An Iraqi boy sells protective face masks during a sandstorm in Baghdad. Credit: Hadi Mizban / Associated Press.

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