During an interview in his cramped and cracking house there, fishmonger Sadiq Abdul-Jalil al-Obeidi described how old pipes in the neighborhood are clogged and falling apart, causing sewage to mix with drinking water.
The power went out the moment he invited guests inside. It returned, at higher cost, only after a privately owned neighborhood generator kicked in.
He accused Iraqi officials — "the whole government, without any exception" — of pocketing the country's oil revenues. "Human nature is greedy," he added mater-of-factly.
"We're an oil-rich country, so services should be 100 percent perfect. But what we're seeing is the opposite," al-Obeidi said. "There hasn't been a single official who has come forward to serve the people. Even a 5-year-old child can tell you that. They ... only think about their personal ambitions."
Repeated attempts in recent days to reach Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh to discuss the bitter complaints were unsuccessful.
Other government officials, including some whose parties are allied with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, say corruption and wasteful government spending are seriously diminishing any gains increased oil production is bringing to Iraq.
Without better plans to spend the oil revenues, "Iraq will remain another Somalia instead of becoming more like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates," said Shiite lawmaker Jawad Kadim al-Hassnawi, a member in the services and construction committee in the parliament.
"The whole service system will totally collapse soon if the government continues to act in such an aimless way," he warned.
Salem, the taxi driver filling up in downtown Baghdad, is even more pessimistic.
"It's totally impossible," he said when asked if Iraq's standard of living can one day hope to rival that of other regional OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. "We'd need Aladdin's magic lamp for that!"
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin contributed reporting.
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