BAGHDAD, Iraq -- I worked an the afternoon shift yesterday, so I had a chance to pursue some mundane errands. Instead I wound up on a nightmarish tour of Baghdad.
I first went to Mustansiriya University, the site of the tragic explosions last week that claimed the lives of about 70 students and injured scores. I was trying to get some documents for my wife. Upon arriving at the main road leading to the university, I found it blocked by Iraqi security forces. I took an alternate road that snaked through residential areas.
About 500 yards from the university entrance, I began hearing sporadic shooting. People signaled to me and other cars to turn back. I rolled down the window and asked what was happening.
"There is a sniper who is shooting randomly," someone called back.
I turned back and tried another road, and to my frustration I saw two police cars blocking it. Several policemen stood in a state of alert with their weapons in hand. I parked my car and proceeded on foot.
At the university gate, there was little traffic except for policemen and security guards. One, dressed in civilian clothes, held an AK-47 and nervously scoured visitors with his eyes.
The sniper, he explained, had killed one of his colleagues a half-hour earlier.
After wrangling with the red tape at the university, I walked back to my car and drove toward Canal Street. I figured taking the highway would be a quicker route back toward downtown and work.
But on the way to the on ramp, I heard more shooting. I reached Beirut Square and suddenly encountered a traffic jam, with cars scrambling to back away and turn around.
Everybody was terrified by the sounds of rockets being fired. It was like in the movies! I heard six rockets or mortars launched from behind a building facing the street. Several of the drivers fled from their cars for fear of being hurt in the crossfire.
I finally reached the Karada district, an ordinarily safe middle-class enclave on the way to the office. About 150 yards from the office of Deputy Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, I heard sirens blaring and more shooting.
It was coming from the security guards in uniforms. They were apparently Abdul-Mahdi's guards opening fire on a sniper who was targeting them.
Armed men sealed the main road as well as the side roads. I was once again stuck in a traffic jam, unable to move for 30 minutes.
When I finally got to the office, I felt disgusted and frustrated. This was just my little day. But it's a day everyone has, more often than not, just to accomplish the most ordinary tasks.
Suhail Ahmad writes for the Los Angeles Times.