Ordinary? Residents describe life in Baghdad as miserable
"Ordinary" isn't a word that Baghdad residents use to describe their lives. Gunmen are driving people from neighborhoods in the city's southwest...
BAGHDAD -- "Ordinary" isn't a word that Baghdad residents use to describe their lives.
Gunmen are driving people from neighborhoods in the city's southwest. Electricity, depending on which block you live on, is available as little as two hours a day. Running water, if it's available, is unsafe to drink.
Car bombings are down, but most residents won't leave their neighborhoods, frightened that they will encounter Shiite Muslim militiamen or Sunni Muslim extremists who will kill them.
Some markets are reopening in the southern neighborhood of Dora under the watch of U.S. soldiers, but no one from outside the neighborhood visits.
As for schools, it's hard to say: The school year hasn't started.
Yousef al-Mousawi, 28, a Shiite resident of Sadr City, told this story Friday: Two days ago, his friend Mustafa was kidnapped from his computer shop. He was found dead, shot in the head. It wasn't unusual. Al-Mousawi sees bodies every day in his neighborhood -- controlled by the Mahdi Army militia, loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Mousawi said traffic jams terrify him. He was wounded by a car bomb last year and has traveled the region since for medical treatment.
"The Mahdi Army isn't just killing Sunnis now, they are killing Shiites as well," he said. "I go to university, I'm afraid of suicide bombers and car bombs. I come home, and I'm afraid of the Mahdi Army. We're living in fear, endless fear."
Even grocery shopping can be risky. Jassim Mohammed, 53, a Sunni from the Sleikh neighborhood in northern Baghdad, said he rarely left his home, let alone traveled to marketplaces throughout the city.
This week marked the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. The evening meal is a feast, and everyone wants his favorite food.
But what Mohammed's family eats is up to Abu Ahmed, the lone grocer in his neighborhood. If he's selling okra, they eat okra stew. If he doesn't have yogurt, they don't eat yogurt. As a Sunni in what's become a Shiite capital, Mohammed said, he has no choice.
"It has become a dream for us to shop from any central market," he said. "No way can I roam freely in Baghdad. I can barely get from home to work, there are so many checkpoints manned by people I don't trust.
"By what standards can I consider this life ordinary?" he asked. "Would Mr. Bush consider my life normal if he knew the details? Would any American?"
Muhsin al-Ribaawi, 45, a Shiite, lives in Hurriyah, a once-mixed northwest Baghdad neighborhood that's been devoid of Sunnis since they were forced out in December.
The change was good, Ribaawi said. He can travel freely through Shiite neighborhoods throughout the capital, although he never ventures into Sunni enclaves. He no longer sees as many bodies dumped on the streets. As a supervisor for roads and bridges in Baghdad, he used to encounter as many as 20 a day. "I'm so happy for that," he said.
Still, life is hardly back to normal. Dirty and disease-ridden, water that comes from his tap is "terrifying."
Mohammed al-Ani, 36, a Sunni, lives in Mansour, in central Baghdad. When he travels elsewhere in the capital, he maps out his route so that he passes only through Sunni neighborhoods.
"If they [militias] have my ID and they see my tribal name, al-Ani, I may lose my life," he said. When he returns home at 5 p.m., the neighborhood already is empty and he shuts himself inside.
On Industry Street in central Baghdad, Mariam Shleimoon, a Christian, said she spent her days cowering in her home. The Mahdi Army called her husband this week. They said he'd cursed the militia and that the family must pay -- $4,000, a princely sum for a poor man who makes his money repairing kerosene heaters, a skill needed only in winter.
Shleimoon and her husband went to the police but no one would help, so they stay in to avoid the militia. She'd like her children to stay home as well. Her daughter, Rita, barely escaped a bombing, and her son witnessed the slaying of a man as he waited to buy bread. But the heat is stifling -- they have two hours of electricity a day, one in the morning and one at night -- and her children want to get out of the house.
"We are living in fear," she said. "I thought about selling out and leaving the country, but my husband said, 'I will live and die here.' "
In Saidiyah, in southwest Baghdad, Ali Mohammed, 30, a Sunni, said nearly all stores in his neighborhood had closed as Shiite and Sunni gunmen battled to control the area. The only clinic closed three months ago. It didn't have medicine anyway, he said.
A university student, he said he fears leaving the neighborhood because checkpoints are manned by police commandos, units known to be rife with Shiite militiamen, who alert gunmen in civilian cars to attack suspected Sunnis. A father and son were killed at a checkpoint three days ago, he said.
Bush, he said, "is speaking the opposite of what's going on on the ground."
McClatchy Newspapers special correspondents Sahar Issa, Mohammed al Dulaimy, Laith Hammoudi and Jenan Hussein contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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