"A Dark, Dark Tunnel", Baghdad Family Condemns US Bombing, Despite Dislike for Hussein

M. Junaid Alam redjaguar at attbi.com
Sun Mar 23 20:37:16 MST 2003



In Baghdad
'We're in a Dark, Dark Tunnel'
Family Lives Life Under Siege, in Fear of U.S. Attack
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 24, 2003; Page A01

BAGHDAD, March 23 -- The melancholy wail sailed across the city and
pierced the walls of the middle-class Baghdad home. The sleepless family
listened in silence until the mother, her face lined with fear and pain,
shook her head.

"Siren," she whispered.

At that, her daughter jumped up and threw open the door. She ran to open
the windows next, fearful the blast would shatter them. The son sprinted
outside, hoping to spot a low-flying cruise missile that would send the
family huddling, yet again, in a hallway.

And they waited for the bombs.

"It's terrible," the mother said, as the minutes passed. "We really
suffer, and I don't know why we should live like this."

Her daughter nodded. "I get so scared, I shake," she said. "I'm afraid
the house is going to collapse on my head."

While the outside world has grown accustomed to detached images of fire
and fury over Baghdad, and the government here boasts of victory over
the invaders, this rattled family of five in the middle-class
neighborhood of Jihad has watched war turn life upside down. Their world
now is isolation, dread and a bitter sense that they do not deserve
their fate.

"We're in a dark, dark tunnel, and we don't see the light at the end of
it," the daughter-in-law said.

The family met privately with a journalist today, without the presence
of a requisite government escort and with a promise that their
identities would not be published. Over a lunch of Iraqi dishes --
pickled mango, kibbe, kufta and chicken cooked with rice, peanuts and
raisins -- they spoke with unusual candor about politics and war. At
times brashly, they discussed subjects that are usually hinted at, as if
Baghdad were already in limbo between its past and its future.

"Iraq is ready for change," the father said. "The people want it; they
want more freedom."

But family members expressed anger at the U.S. government, which has
promised to liberate them. They criticized President Saddam Hussein and
his dictatorial rule, but insisted that pride and patriotism prevent
them from putting their destiny in the hands of a foreign power.

They spoke most fervently of a longing for routine -- the most mundane
rituals of going to work, sharing dinner on a quiet night and sleeping
at a set hour. They predicted little of that stability ahead. From a
bloody battle for the capital, to lawlessness, to the humiliation of an
occupation, they braced for a future that hardly anyone in Baghdad dares
predict.

"Everything is turned around," the daughter-in-law said.

For weeks, the daughter-in-law helped prepare the house for war. She and
her husband hauled a mattress downstairs, setting up their bedroom in
the dining room. The family rearranged furniture so that they could
sprint to open the windows. Sofas and tables were cloaked in dust cloths
to protect them from flying glass and debris. Two rifles and bags of
ammunition were propped against the wall.

Scattered around the two-story house were supplies to help them
withstand a siege. Two tanks were filled with kerosene for cooking in
case the electricity went out. The mother filled every pan, kettle and
thermos with water, in case the pumps stopped working. Flour, sugar,
rice, beans, powdered milk, biscuits, jam, cheese, macaroni, wheat,
rice, flour and cereal filled bag after bag.

"These will last three months," the son said, surveying the stockpile.

His wife interrupted to disagree. One month, no more. "The men in our
family have very big appetites," she said.

It was a rare moment of levity in a city with little joy. The family
members gazed out the window at a sky shrouded in black smoke from fires
lit by Iraqi forces to conceal targets from U.S. strikes. The oil pits
burned for a second day, turning a sunny, cloudless Baghdad sky into an
eerie gauze. In vain, the family hoped the smoke would limit the air
assault.

They had already had enough, they said. The worst so far was Friday,
when U.S. and British forces fired 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles at
Baghdad, wrecking the symbols of Hussein's rule. Ten of the missiles
landed near their home, shattering the window in the front of the house.
The shock waves threw open the refrigerator, tossing its drawers on the
kitchen floor.

"They were powerful, really powerful," the mother said. "They came one
after another."

Baghdad is a city that takes pride in its toughness. Residents are fond
of listing the challenges history has thrown before them. The men in the
family sounded a similar theme.

"We have 11,000 years of history. I know it sounds facetious, but it
gives you resilience," the father said.

Of the bombs, his son added, "The bark is worse than the bite." But in
private moments today, the suffering was close to the surface. Friends,
they said, had fled to Syria in January, only to run out of money before
the war started. Others had headed north to the city of Mosul, hoping to
endure the war with relatives.

Those who stayed have struggled to negotiate the uncertainty. A pregnant
friend of the daughter-in-law was supposed to have a Caesarean section
within 10 days. But her doctor has vanished. Hospital after hospital has
refused to admit her, overwhelmed with the task of preparing for the
wounded. Another friend who is seven months pregnant has begun taking
valium.

A neighbor said she stuffed cotton in the ears of her two young children
every night. She fretted about finding diapers and milk.

"She's in a complete panic," the daughter-in-law said.

When it came to the cause of Iraq's predicament, family members pointed
to Hussein, describing him as rash. He invaded Iran, trapping them in an
eight-year war. He seized Kuwait, bringing on the Persian Gulf War and
the devastation of sanctions that largely wiped out Iraq's middle class.
After that war, they were ready to overthrow him themselves.

But they bitterly denounced the war the United States has launched.
Iraq, perhaps more than any other Arab country, dwells on traditions --
of pride, honor and dignity. To this family, the assault is an insult.
It is not Hussein under attack, but Iraq, they said. It is hard to gauge
if this is a common sentiment, although it is one heard more often as
the war progresses.

"We complain about things, but complaining doesn't mean cooperating with
foreign governments," the father said. "When somebody comes to attack
Iraq, we stand up for Iraq. That doesn't mean we love Saddam Hussein,
but there are priorities."

A friend of the family interrupted. "Bombing for peace?" he asked,
shaking his head.

"I don't even care about the leadership," the daughter-in-law said. "But
someone wants to take away what is yours. What gives them the right to
change something that's not theirs in the first place? I don't like your
house, so I'm going to bomb it and you can rebuild it again the way I
want it, with your money? I feel like it's an insult, really."

Gathered around the table, the family members nodded their heads.

"There are rumblings of dissent," the father said. "But these rumblings
don't mean come America, we'll throw flowers at you."

The family is Sunni Muslim, a minority from which the government draws
its strength. Sunnis appear to have the most to lose in a postwar Iraq
that would undoubtedly devolve authority to Kurds in the north and the
Shiite Muslim majority in the south. The son acknowledged that some
Shiite friends had a different opinion of the U.S. attack. But Iraqi
nationalism -- and a history replete with sometimes violent opposition
to foreign intervention -- could influence the course of the war and its
aftermath.

On this day, though, survival was the more pressing issue. By late
afternoon, the thunder of bombing broke across the horizon. The son said
he heard a rumor that B-52s were on their way, and the family members
guessed at the time it would take them to arrive.

They were jittery, flinching at the slightest sounds. "That's wind,
that's wind," the father said when the door slammed shut. When the son
got up, his chair banged the wall and the mother jumped. A few minutes
later, he did it again.

"Quit doing that," his mother said. "I'm so scared. Every little noise."

Outside, the sounds of ordinary life came from the street. A cart passed
the house, its horn blowing. It had come to collect trash and refill
kerosene tanks for cooking. As the cart passed, the routine it evoked
seemed to anger the son.

"I should be able to live like other people are living," he said glumly.
"I shouldn't fear bombs falling on my head, I shouldn't be hearing
sirens. Why should I have to like this? Why should this be normal?"

Everyone looked to the floor, no one saying a word.

C 2003 The Washington Post Company


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