I didn't want to take a shower this morning. But it had been a muggy night and I was sweaty and groggy and needed a shower.
"I just don't want to," I thought to myself as I awoke to a muffled explosion. A car bomb had exploded at a police checkpoint near our hotel/bureau at 7:45 in the morning, earlier than my alarm. Oddly (and this surprised and somewhat disturbed me) the sound of the explosion (which killed four Iraqi policeman, according to the Iraqi interior ministry) was somehow nostalgic.
I have been away from Iraq (on vacation) for the past three weeks and this macabre wake-up call was, for lack of a better word, familiar. It evoked a feeling of home; that's the disturbing part after nearly three straight years here.
But now I was up, facing the shower. While I was away a stray bullet (I assume it was a stray) had come through a window above the shower, breaking it into shards and boring holes into the vanity case hanging on the wall. The bullet was on the bathroom floor. I have it in my hand now, snub-nosed (blunted from when it hit the tiled wall), brass-colored and about the size of a tooth, only heavier. This bullet had come through the window just about where my head is when I shower.
Violence here has been on the rise since yesterday. There were 16 bomb and mortar attacks in Baghdad yesterday, compared with five or six daily last week. U.S. military and Iraqi government sources say the violence will intensify up to Saturday's referendum with the possibility of a "spectacular attack" (a phrase I've always hated, evoking images of Las Vegas mixed with death) on referendum day itself.
Out of courtesy to my colleagues and public health, I did end up showering. I was in a hurry to get to the Iraqi president's house, where negotiations were still underway. The U.S. ambassador was there, trying to mediate between the Shiites and Sunnis. I arrived at 9:00 a.m., just in time to realize I was far too early. We didn't end up seeing President Talabani or his advisors until nearly five in the afternoon. At about 3:00, there was a mini-revolt and most of the Iraqi journalists left so they could be home in time for the Ramadan breakfast, although I can attest most of them were not fasting and the room where we were waiting was full of reporters smoking and drinking soda.
In the end we did get a brief on the Constitution, still tied up in debate over three points: the ability to form regional blocks, the de-baathification process and how the Constitution can be amended. Sunnis want to limit the ability of provinces to group together to form mini-states, an end to the de-baathfication purges and an easy way to amend the Constitution, mostly written by Shiites and Kurds. The Shiites want the exact opposite. More negotiations are expected tomorrow at Talabani's house.
It is, without hyperbole, an incredibly important process. If the Constitution passes Saturday's yes-no vote despite Sunni opposition (a very real possibility), the insurgency led by Sunnis (who already feel isolated and so hopeless many are blowing themselves up) could get worse. If, however, the talks at Talabani's house produce a consensus before the vote (at this point this seems a slim possibility according to negotiators I spoke to today) then there is a chance the Constitution will pass with Sunni support and insurgents will gradually become more isolated. There is therefore some hope; but waking up to violence everyday, in bed and in the shower, it is sometimes hard to see it, and even harder for Iraqis, who are much more exposed to the hardships of life here than any reporter.