Patrick Cockburn

The referendum on the constitution is dividing Iraqis. Sunni Arabs fear it will destroy the country by breaking it up into cantons. The Shias and Kurds hope it will give birth to a new Iraq in which they will hold power. The US has put intense pressure on negotiators to reach an agreement because it is desperate to prove to ever more sceptical American voters that Iraq is fast progressing towards democracy.

But the mood in Baghdad is determined more by day-to-day considerations of survival than the upcoming referendum or the fresh elections for the National Assembly on 15 December. There is a sense that society is disintegrating. The better off districts of the capital have become ghost towns. Real estate prices have collapsed. ‘First the rich left, then the better off, but now even people who earn $300 to $400 a month are getting out and going to Jordan or Syria,’ a wealthy businessman living in Amman for fear of kidnappers told me.

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