Iraq's postal service delivers

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. It's been 208 days since Iraq held elections. And it still hasn't formed a government. But that political limbo may be ending. Today a major Shiite alliance picked incumbent, Nuri al-Maliki, as its nominee for prime minister. That could signal that Iraq's government might start working again. But some things never stopped. For instance, Iraq's postal service. Even throughout the war, it kept on delivering the mail. The World's Susannah George visited a post office in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad.

SUSANNAH GEORGE: The Jadriyya post office is on the edge of a busy traffic circle just down the street from one of the main entrances to the greenzone. Inside the post office, the main room lacks electricity. Next door in the sorting room, a single fan powered by a generator cools a staff of eight. 48-year-old Muhammed Salman is the head mail distributor. He was promoted to the job in 2002, just one year before the US led invasion of Iraq.


MUHAMMED SALMAN: We never stopped delivering mail. Before the war, during the war and after the war. All the time we kept doing our jobs. We are the only ministry that kept working.

GEORGE: But it wasn't easy to function amid the chaos. The post office had to rearrange mail routes after several mailmen were killed during the height of Iraq's civil war. Sunni mailmen we assigned to deliver mail to Sunni neighborhoods and Shia mailmen to Shia neighborhoods. The mail carriers' perseverance is a point of pride around the office. Hamajeed Hamza is in charge of record keeping. She's worked at the post office for 31 years. She logs every single piece of mail that enters the office. A massive ledger on her desk shows when the mail comes into the office and which mailman takes it out for delivery.


HAMAJEED HAMZA: We maintained the same organization even in the worst years here in Iraq. Even if you ask me about a letter that was sent 10 years ago on a certain date, I can look it up and tell you who delivered it and when.

GEORGE: But Hamza notes that even though they've kept up their service, things are changing.


HAMZA: Just before the war we used to receive 10 to 15 cases of mail. Now we only receive one small case of mail because of all this new technology. People talk on mobiles and send emails. They don't write letters anymore.

GEORGE: Just one desk down you can see another change. It's on the postage stamps. Hazem Waheed is marking incoming mail with an inked stamp. He describes some of the different postage on the letters scattered in front of him.


HAZEM WAHEED: The stamps show great Iraqi events. This one is of a famous soccer coach, this one is of an Iraqi singer, this one is of Iraqi art and one is a symbol of Iraqi Chinese relations.

GEORGE: Waheed says that before the war all the stamps featured pictures of Saddam Hussein and that made his job much more difficult.


WAHEED: Before you couldn't stamp on the postage stamp because they were all images of Saddam and you couldn't stamp on his face so you had to be very careful and just stamp the registration on the border. If you did stamp on his face they would find you and you'd disappear. Now the stamps are about Iraqi culture and art. You can stamp anywhere.

GEORGE: Head mail distributor Mohmmed Salman still makes his rounds to the same neighborhoods he's been serving for 12 years. He stops every so often to exchange niceties and bundles of letters. On a corner in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad, he reflects on how much this intersection has changed.


SALMAN: Before this neighborhood was cleaner and there were better services. You can see the destroyed buildings around you. Now many of the houses I go to are empty because people have left to the United States or to another neighborhood. You used to see more life here.

GEORGE: But he says he has hope for the future. That Baghdad will be rebuilt, security will improve, trash will be cleared away and people will move back. After logging the mail he's just delivered, he speeds off on an imported motorcycle to his next stop. For The World, I'm Susannah George in Baghdad.