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Sons of Baghdad
2005 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
The sun was dipping below the pock-marked buildings and the swirls of dust
and sand were making breathing difficult. Most of those who remained in Baghdad and wore eyeglasses found that their lenses were pitted
and marked by the frequent blows of the fine sand.
Six million Iraqis
used to live in Baghdad, with their numbers gradually being reduced due to the grisly daily death count and the emigration of anyone
with enough money to bribe an official for a travel visa and a passport.
A few buildings in few neighborhoods have been spared the scars of the automatic rifle fire, rockets and tank cannon blasts. The pockmarks
of large caliber shells appear on the front of hundreds of buildings, giving most of Baghdad the look of a pox infected and diseased
Streets in most neighborhoods are empty of residents. Markets
and open air shopping areas are being destroyed by suicide bombers. Baghdad residents know that their next shopping trip and their
lives could be ended by a violent explosion, but people have to eat. And so, those remaining Baghdad residents have to take the chance
of having their bodies blown to bits as they shop for meager rations in the remaining outdoor markets of Baghdad.
The market on Wagas street, is east of the Tigris river, due south of the Alsh’ab Stadium in the Ar Rasafah area of Baghdad.
Crouched behind a half dozen empty 55-gallon oil drums are brothers Abdul Salaam and Izz Udeen. Abdul is 24 years old. Izz, three
years older. The two brothers have lived in Baghdad all of their young lives. Until the war began in 2003 their family lived comfortably
in a 2nd floor apartment at the end of Wagas street. Their father was a hospital ambulance driver. Their mother, was a seamstress
at a local clothing manufacturer’s small factory three blocks from the family home.
Two years ago the boys’ mother and father were shopping at the Wagas street open air market when a suicide bomber stood quietly by
the fresh fruit stand and pulled the detonation cord on the front of his shirt, under his jacket, sending his body parts a hundred
meters in every direction. The brothers’ mother and father died instantly as they stood selecting pickled beets at the booth next
to the fruit stand. There was nothing left of the two to bury. Instantly Abdul and Izz were forced to withdraw from nearby Baghdad
University. Evading sniper fire, the blasts of tank cannons and the sadistic ritual murders of the Sunnis who hunted them, the two
Shiite brothers managed to steal enough each day to exist, but barely.
Today Abdul and Izz were preparing to steal enough food from the food carts to feed themselves for the next two days.
Tomorrow the two would carefully walk the distance to the “Green Zone” which was where the Americans, news reporters and important
Iraqi politicians live and work in comparative safety from the everyday Baghdad slaughters. One day a week the brothers went to the
“Green Zone” and begged for funds to survive. They also stole whatever they could get away with from cars, carts and from the few
stores that remained open during the murderous bedlam.
behind the oil drums the young men rested as they watched a U.S. Army patrol march by. They spoke softly in their native Arabic, to
“How our lives have changed, Izz. A few, short
years ago we lived comfortably with our mother and father.”
“I think of those days often, my brother. I loved the times father would take us to the horse races. We would spend the day with him,
even betting on the outcome of the races and eating fresh foods.”
“Look at us now. Thieving beggars. Stealing from anyone to gain the poorest of foods. Our whole family, what is left of us, live on
the streets, fearful for our lives. Our cousins, our aunts, even our aged grandfather move from burned out apartments to the shells
of houses to avoid the Sunni death squads. We survive by praying, begging and stealing. Do you think that one day, in our lifetimes,
we shall live like humans again?”
“It is difficult for me
to think about those days now. My days, like yours, are taken up with surviving. With avoiding our murders by the death squads. With
grabbing enough food to live. With staying out of the fire between the Americans and the terrorists.” I dare not dream of a Baghdad
the way it was.”
“Once in a while, in the evenings, before I fall
asleep, I think of Baghdad when Saddam Hussein ruled. Our family knew the dangers of his regime. We heard stories of the killings.
I remember one day our uncle disappeared, never to be heard from again. I listened to our father tell mother that Saddam probably
captured him and murdered him. Many hated those days, they were filled with fear and sleepless nights, but today death is even closer
to us. It seems as though Baghdad has become a place like hell. Our friends, our family, our neighborhood are gone. All that remains
is the dust, the explosions and the fear.”
“Abdul, let us hope that someday
the killings will stop. We shall pray that Sunni and Shiite will realize we worship the same god. Pray that the Americans can find
and kill the leaders of the terrorists.”
“Yes. I long for one night
of sleep without awakening to the sounds of the bombs, the tanks, the yelling of the death squads and the screams of the dying.”
the sun crept below the low hills surrounding Baghdad, the winds arose. The brothers Abdul and Izz, had stolen enough fruit and vegetables
to have a meal this evening. They slipped out of the marketplace and walked quickly into the shadows of the alleys, heading for a
burned out hulk of an apartment, where they would spend the night hiding from the death squads, the terrorists and the robbers who
kill for little reason.
In the “Green Zone” an American Army general
is discussing the war with his Iraqi consultant: “So, what do your people want? Is the war going the way they want it to go? Do the
Iraqi people feel that we are winning the war against the terrorists?”
The Iraqi, tired and frustrated said, “When the war started in 2003 your American army fought and defeated the army of Saddam Hussein.
At that war you won easily. Today the war is no longer against an army. Today the war is between Iraqis. Between ordinary people of
other countries and your soldiers. You are still fighting like against Saddam’s army. Today you are fighting angry, revolutionary
Muslims. Until you learn who you are fighting and change the way you fight them you will remain in Iraq longer than your life and
mine. The American army cannot win this war. You must go to the source of the fighting and that lies in the hills of Afghanistan and
Pakistan. You find those men and kill them and you will win the war.”
Meanwhile, in a bombed out, small apartment on lower Wagas street Abdul and Izz, share a meal of vegetables and fruit. There is no
electricity, no furniture, no safety. They fall asleep, but a part of them listens for the sounds of danger. The danger they live
with all day, every day.