Surviving civil war in Baghdad; from slaughter to soccer
Posted by Aws Qusay
I left my home in Baghdad early that day, on tenterhooks as I headed to a job interview for which I had been preparing for weeks.
It was July 2006, five months after the bombing of a revered Shi’ite shrine unleashed a wave of sectarian killing in Iraq. Only the day before, my neighbourhood in southwestern Baghdad was rocked by a huge bomb that destroyed a local mosque.
As I walked to catch the bus that morning, thoughts of the interview dropped quickly from my mind when I saw six bloodied bodies piled by the side of the street. They were men and boys, riddled with gunshot wounds. They were handcuffed and some were blindfolded. I hurried along.
When I boarded the bus, my fellow passengers and I peered out of the windows, unable to turn away from the scores of dead bodies — revenge killings after the mosque bombing — we saw lying on the sidewalk. We were all looking for people we knew.
After my interview, I returned to find that my entire neighbourhood had been sealed off by U.S. and Iraqi troops. I was worried sick about my family trapped within. I phoned them and pleaded with them to stay inside.
Eventually, with nowhere to go, I decided to make the trip to my grandfather’s house in western Baghdad. Under any other circumstances, it would have been too risky, since his neighbourhood was controlled by al Qaeda militants and had been the scene of massive bloodshed. But I was desperate.
When I arrived that afternoon, shaken by what I had seen and exhausted from the blistering heat, my grandfather welcomed me and sat me down to watch the World Cup soccer final — Italy versus France.
Normally, like any other Iraqi, I would have been riveted by the game. But the sight of the bodies I had seen that morning were seared in my mind.
The next morning, I sat in the garden in front of my grandfather’s home. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw several men halt a bus in broad daylight and force its
passengers onto the street.
One refused to move, and they shot him right away.
The air was thick with shouts and pleading. The gunmen, who wore no masks and couldn’t have been much older than me — I was 24 at the time — lined up all but one of the others on the pavement and executed them. One of the men killed was wearing a blue Italy soccer jersey.
It was then I understood my country was at civil war.
Thousands and thousands of Iraqis were killed in the sectarian, and indiscriminate, violence of 2006 and 2007.
Finally, U.S. and Iraqi forces managed to curtail the violence, erecting tall concrete walls around the city and deploying thousands of troops and police on the streets.
Today, my family no longer hover at home each evening, afraid to venture out. They stay out late visiting family — although they have never stopped looking over their shoulders.
A few weeks ago, I attended Iraq’s first full-capacity soccer match since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Jubilant fans packed the 50,000-seat al-Shaab stadium in central Baghdad for the national football league final.
“Sunnis and Shi’ites! We are all brothers!” the ecstatic crowd chanted. I stood watching the cheering crowd, waving Iraqi flags.
The home team lost the match, but it didn’t matter. It was a victory for all of us.