Video: Iraq focuses on today
updated 6/23/2005 12:48:20 PM ET 2005-06-23T16:48:20

As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top U.S. military officials testified on Capitol Hill Thursday about U.S. policy and military operations in Iraq, violence continues in Baghdad, where nearly 40 people died from car bombings in a 12-hour span Wednesday.

NBC's Baghdad correspondent Richard Engel joined MSNBC's Amy Robach on Thursday morning and said that while bigger issues, including a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, are widely discussed in the country, short-term problems are the focus for many in Iraq.

"Whether that timetable is realistic and what are happening on the ground however are two very open questions," Engel said. "For example, today what's on people's minds is not this long theoretical timetable but ... this very serious sandstorm that has been here for about a week.

"It's over 100 degrees. There hasn't been water in Baghdad for about five days. There's now been an outbreak, according to hospital officials, of cholera, diarrhea, of food poisoning because of the water situation," Engel added.

"There were eight car bombs in Baghdad since last night. So for a lot of people here, both U.S. soldiers, U.S. Marines and average Iraqis living on the ground, its not some theoretical broad idea of 'Are we making progress?' 'Is Iraq a more democratic state?' 'Will in 20 years, this be safer for America or not?' But they're worried about what happens today, what happens next week," he said.

"According to a lot of people living here, the situation does not seem to be getting any better."

He noted that there are different levels of progress depending on which area of Iraq one goes, making broad generalizations complex.

"I think it's very difficult to talk about Iraq as a whole because, frankly, there isn't much of Iraq as a whole anymore. It's several different federal states that are already existing here. The Kurdish entity in the North is almost independent. Then there's the Sunni Triangle, which is a failed state effectively. Ongoing military operations had been continuing. There's really no sense of normal life going on in the Sunni Triangle. People are nervous, schools aren't functioning properly. The reconstruction efforts are not going underway.

"Yet then we have the southern parts of the country, the areas around the Shiite and Karbala areas of the Sunni heartland which are almost independent. It's like a mini religious state where the clerics are running the show with influence from Iran," Engel said. "A similar situation to that is in the south around Basra."

Engel said that the these areas are safer than Baghdad, but "that comes at a price."

"The militias are playing a very large role, Iran is very influential. Some people aren't very happy with the increased role of Shiite Islam in their lives," he said. "So there is peace and quiet but it's at a price. You very much have to look at which region you're talking about to assess if there's progress there. The idea of a national, united progress, the country as a whole is moving forward with a united vision, I think is somewhat unrealistic."

To watch the full interview between NBC's Richard Engel and MSNBC's Amy Robach, click on the video link above. MSNBC Live with Amy Robach and Randy Meier can be seen weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon.

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