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Out of order

Some parts of Iraq face not merely political chaos but long-term social breakdown

By Alex Renton   July 2003

In the flat semi-desert outside Nassiriyeh we saw the water thieves from at least a mile away. The heat haze made them, their goats and trucks, loom through the mirage as in funfair mirrors, impossibly tall. Our car was following one of central southern Iraq’s most important water mains, part of a supply line for 2.4m people. It runs underground but rises, every few miles, at maintenance points housed in concrete boxes.

Around each valve box there was a large puddle. At one, men were filling a container with a pipe; at another a group of nomads were watering their…

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