Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, has gone as far as warning television crews against filming the devastation.

The Baghdad municipality has commissioned cleanup crews to handle the mutilated bodies that are increasing daily.

"They've gotten used to this," said Amir Ali, spokesman for Baghdad's municipal government, as he described the attitude of the cleanup crews who earn as little as $5 a day.

"It's daily routine now to deal with these horrific scenes. All of Baghdad has witnessed destruction."

Clearing up the mess

After an explosion, the civil defence workers who extinguish fires are the first to arrive. They also provide first aid to survivors and carry off the dead.

Then the street cleaners arrive, many of whom have not had any training in dealing with the aftermath of a bombing site.

Ammar Adnan, who supervises a cleanup crew, said: "Usually at that point, most of the blood is gone. If not, well, we have to deal with it. We go in, do it quick and leave."

Adnan, who works part-time to pay for his engineering education at Baghdad University and help his parents with expenses, says there is another reason to work fast:

Fighters sometimes plant a second bomb to kill and maim police and cleaners who rush to the scene.

Lieutenant-Colonel Qassim Majid, spokesman for the civil defence in eastern Baghdad, said four of his team have been killed and three injured in the past two months in follow-on explosions.

The trained civil defence teams have better equipment and vehicles than in the days of Saddam Hussein. But security is worse now, and the frequency of attacks has strained resources, Majid said.

"Previously, we used to deal with a fire once a week. Now we deal with at least three explosions a day."

His unit has about 800 workers and is responsible for nearly three quarters of Baghdad. Even a medium-size explosion requires at least 30 civil defence workers, he said.

A lasting imprint

Scattered body parts are collected by rescue teams and packed in a bag that is carried by ambulance to a hospital.

Hospital officials say the parts are kept in refrigerators until enough are collected for burial.
 
However, workers at some medical facilities and the Baghdad mortuary have complained that bits of flesh sometimes clog drain pipes.

Ali, the city government spokesman, confirmed that they do not get training or psychological counselling for coping with the carnage, but he said all Iraqis have had to come to grips with it.

"The psyche of all Iraqis now is disturbed. Whether you work for the health ministry, defence ministry or wherever," he said.

"Even if you don't have to deal with it because it's your job, you see it on the street every day."