Sunday, January 07, 2007

wages of war

A NY Times article today follows up the families of the children killed in a suicide bombing in Baghdad in July 2005. U.S. soldiers had been distributing candy to the children when the bomber struck, killing 34 of them.

In the seconds after the explosion, the world narrowed to one child for Sattar Hashim, a 39-year-old security guard whose son had gone out to see the American patrol. Mr. Hashim moved frantically through the wreckage, just outside his front gate, a scene now burned into his memory. He found his son unconscious, his body torn by shrapnel.

“I pray to God that no one in this world will ever have to face such a scene,” he said, remembering the scene as he sat in his sparely furnished living room with the curtains drawn. “As if they had been scattered on the ground. Legs. Arms. Heads. Bodies still burning.”

His son died in a hospital operating room several hours after the explosion.

Suicide bombings often stop clocks nearby, throwing the delicate mechanisms out of balance. The minute hand freezes the moment that the bomber detonates, and cleanup crews find clocks hanging crookedly on walls hours later, with the moment of loss fixed forever on the clocks’ faces.

For the parents in Naariya, the clocks are frozen at a quarter after 10. The deaths that morning tore a hole in the life of the block, and more than a year later, many people have been unable to put their lives back together. Some have drifted away from their spouses. Others changed jobs or stopped going to work altogether. Reminders of the loss were everywhere: Class sizes were smaller. Soccer tournaments for 12-year-olds stopped. Bug collecting was no longer a hobby.

The pain caused strange things to happen. Mr. Yaseen lost his knack for numbers and found himself fumbling in front of customers at the hardware store where he had worked for years. Eventually, he quit. Reading and writing became difficult for Zahra Hussein, the mother of 11-year-old Hamza. She had lost her ability to concentrate and some of her eyesight.

. . .

A constant theme of the war for Iraqis has been their complete lack of control over chaotic, life-changing events. Like victims of a car wreck on an empty highway, they sit in pain and hope that help will come along.

Mr. Yaseen is haunted by the helplessness he felt that morning when he found his younger son, Ali, still alive. He was badly burned and missing his feet.

“I said to myself — two feet, it is nothing,” he said. But within several hours the child was dead.

“I did not have the ability to do anything for him,” Mr. Yaseen said. “To save him.”

. . .

“I’m like a dead man,” said Mr. Yaseen, crying into his hands. “I have no ambitions. I have no goals in life. I have lost everything.”

His wife and daughter have moved out, and he has retreated into his apartment, a 12-foot by 14-foot room. He stopped shaving. The room is now piled with baskets of laundry, old children’s toys and a metal bassinet.

“I live in this room,” he said. “I sleep in this room. I eat in this room. This is my whole life. As if I’m in prison.”

This is the face of the war we have brought to Iraq. Whatever we in the U.S. end up doing next there, however and whenever we decide to leave, and however we end up telling ourselves the story of Iraq, it has been and will be overwhelmingly Iraqis who suffer the consequences of our invasion.

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