First Published: 2004-12-31

 
Baghdadis hope for fear-free New Year
 

Residents of Iraqi capital hope they will be able to go about their daily lives free of fear of random death.

 

Middle East Online

By Lamia Radi - BAGHDAD

What is awaiting Iraqis in 2005?

Residents of the Iraqi capital who have spent the past year amid the constant threat of random death have a simple wish for the New Year - to be able to go about their daily lives free of fear.

On the surface, Baghdad on a weekday looks just like any other city - heavy traffic clogs the streets and bustling crowds throng the pavements.

But suddenly, a bomb will explode and a convoy of US armoured vehicles will pull up and slam on the brakes.

Corpses will be lifted in white sheets by weeping men, some will scream and curse amid the carnage underfoot.

Car bombs hurling shrapnel, mortar rounds bursting in the night, theft and kidnapping in the name of the "resistance", such are the challenges of daily life in Baghdad 20 months after US troops toppled Saddam Hussein.

The foreign troop presence holds perils of its own for Baghdadis - Iraqis are picked up by US soldiers and their Iraqi allies on what sometimes seems a random basis, while jittery troops have been known to open fire on innocent bystanders after being hit by a roadside bomb or sniper.

Baghdadis say they are constantly on guard as they never know where the next threat will come from.

"I spent my life in the army. On the front, I knew where the enemy was, I could avoid his shots and answer back. Today, my assailant is invisible," complained Fadel Abbas, 38.

Abbas has been waiting seven hours to fill up his taxi on Saddoun Street, the capital's main commercial thoroughfare, which is a frequent target for bombings.

He says he knows he is taking a big risk but sees no alternative if he is to feed himself and his family. "If I let fear overwhelm me, I will die of hunger," he says.

His comments are echoed by Emad Majid, 36, who works at an outdoor kiosk in Karrada, a well-to-do commercial district that has also been a repeated target for bombings.

"I ready myself to be a martyr each morning when I leave the house," says Majid, adding that he has to continue his work regardless or his family will have no income.

Ever since his kidnapping in November by an armed gang that accused him of collaborating with the Americans, senior agriculture ministry official Radi Mahdi Saleh has dreamt of leaving Iraq.

"Four masked men, gripping pistols and an assault rifle, stopped me on my way to work. They struck me in the head and I lost my balance," Saleh recounts.

"They roughed me up for two days until I finally convinced them of my innocence. They wanted a 100,000 dollar ransom but finally freed me for 40,000 dollars."

To gather the money, his two wives sold their homes, jewellery and land, while his cousins also raised money.

Some Baghdadis take solace in their religion and adopt a fatalistic approach to the random violence.

"We must continue to live normally because our destiny is in God's hands. God alone will decide," says money changer Ali Neema.

He reads the Koran, Islam's holy book, and equates its message with war-wracked Baghdad.

"Death will strike us even in our reinforced towers," he says, citing a verse from the Holy Koran.

Neema says that ultimately Iraqis have no choice but to carry on with their lives. "If we stayed cooped up in our homes, we'd die of boredom and that would be a cowardly way to go," he says.

For Arij, 38, a science professor at Baghdad University, his one hope for the new year is for a little more certainty that he will see his children again after taking them to school each day.

"Will they be kidnapped or knocked down by a car bomb, I ask myself," Arij said.

But he says he cannot give in to the fear. "They must go to school and get an education."

 

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