- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

BAGHDAD — Police Sgt. Sheehab Sabah Sheehab doesn’t fit into his coffin because he is frozen solid. Surrounded by the wails of his sisters and stepmother, his brothers are trying to close the lid of the cheap wooden coffin, but because his limbs won’t move an inch, the top doesn’t sit right.

Sgt. Sheehab, 29, died Monday when someone drove a truck filled with explosives into the al-Dura police station where he worked. He is mostly intact — though bloodied — except for a dime-sized hole where shrapnel punctured his chest.

His extended family has come to claim his body from a Baghdad hospital, where it spent the night in a freezer. They strap his awkwardly positioned coffin to the top of the rented minivan for the short trip to the morgue.

At the morgue, the family members are told they need to get a judge’s permission to avoid an autopsy. Waiting for hours in the van outside the morgue, Sgt. Sheehab’s brother Mohand explains the family’s tragedy.

Sgt. Sheehab had been a policeman since he was 15 or 16 and rose to the level of sergeant, supporting two wives — both pregnant — and four children with his $150 monthly salary. He also supported his brother Hushan and a sister.

“He had to quit his studies when he was young because the family needed money after our father’s death,” someone says. “He wanted to quit being a policeman after the Americans came because he was afraid. But we have no money.”

The family doesn’t blame the Americans for Sgt. Sheehab’s death or that of his mother, who was killed during the U.S. bombing of Baghdad. His stepmother curses Saddam Hussein’s name in a manner that makes a translator blush and giggle.

After a 3-1/2 hour wait, the judge’s permission arrives and the family loads the coffin back onto the roof. The coffin lid now fits.

The procession arrives at Sgt. Sheehab’s home, where his second wife and other female relatives pour out of the house screaming and beating their faces and chests — a scene that is repeated at the stepmother’s house.

The body is rushed next to the devastated al-Dura police station, where the commander has promised an escort through traffic to the cemetery. But the commander is at another funeral, and the American soldiers guarding the scene won’t allow the family inside to find out when he will return.

At the cemetery outside Baghdad, the coffin is lowered from the roof of the rented van and carried to a shed, where the body is shrouded in a white cloth — the only preparation for burial it will receive.

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