- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BAGHDAD — In the early morning sun, Walid Salim, 12, strides to the yard of his school, kisses Iraq’s flag and hoists it high. At a lunchtime cafe, three 18-year-old friends gather to eye girls and talk about cars.

Free to surf the Web, a university professor searches for news from afar. In a small house, a mother worries for her sons as news of a suicide bomb spreads across town.

On this typical day in the life of Iraq, about 25 million people got up in the morning and tried to live normally, going to school, earning a living, getting married, having fun — men, women, children and teenagers, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds.

Off to school

The sky is still dark when Mohammed Khallaf; his wife, Fadhila; and their 12 children begin to stir in their small house in Sadr City, a vast Shi’ite slum in Baghdad. First come the morning prayers, then the dash to school and work.

In the chaos of a big family, the shoes of the youngest boy, Yahya, 9, cannot be found, bringing shouts and suspicion from the father.

The lad eventually admits that he threw the shoes onto the roof. No shoes, no school, he figured. On Thursday, he has science, and he does not like the teacher.

With shoes on their feet, the children finally head off to school and the eldest sons — ages 28 and 23 — off to jobs. Mrs. Khallaf and her elder daughters settle into their morning chores: washing dishes, washing clothes, cleaning the house.

At al-Diraya elementary school in Baghdad’s Harithya neighborhood, the sun is well up and the air warm by 8 a.m., when Walid Salim raises the Iraqi flag with its red, white and black stripes and the words: “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great.”

In a small dusty classroom, dirty with mold but brightened by a red plastic flower in a vase, English teacher Azhar Hashim tells a student practicing the words “I’m from Iraq” to raise his voice when he says it.

“We all have to be proud of our country,” she says, her black dress stained white with chalk.

In the next room, Thanaa Mohamed asks her students to describe the rights of Iraqi citizens.

“Equality and freedom,” answers Jiwan Arasin, 12.

“Who can define equality?” asks Miss Mohamed.

“All people were born free,” answers Esraa Jabbar.

And freedom? “To express your opinion freely,” answers Walid Khalid.

The school’s biggest problem is parents’ fear of attack, which often keeps children home. Another disturbing trend is students asking one another whether they are Sunni or Shi’ite, said Principal Yasamin Subhi Amin.

The teacher of Islamic education is under orders to tell children that they are all Muslim.

On the docks

Far to the south, it is the freedom to make money that preoccupies Sami Dawoud Ali, a Basra businessman who owns a dock and warehouse on the Shatt al-Arab river that flows between Iraq and Iran.

Mr. Ali owns 12 boats and hopes to turn them into a bigger fleet someday. For now, his port takes in large boats loaded with food, used cars and household electronics.

As he chats, Mr. Ali often ducks away to check on the 50 workers unloading cargo or talk by cell phone with shipping agents in bustling Dubai, down the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates.

The government has hindered his business, he says. Officials and political parties demand bribes and push him to hire certain people, but friends in the government also help cut red tape.

“I am a close friend of the transportation minister, and this makes my work easier,” Mr. Ali said, leaning back in his chair, surrounded by faxes and phones. “Otherwise, my business would have been much slower.”

On the Web

At an Internet cafe on Baghdad’s busy Palestine Street, Sahar Nafi Shakir is checking her e-mail as usual and surfing the Web for news about international geology conferences.

Mrs. Shakir, an assistant professor at nearby Mustansiriyah University, first used the Internet in mid-2002. At the time, with dictator Saddam Hussein in power, she needed permission from the campus security chief and the approval of her boss.

“You cannot compare these days to those of Saddam when it comes to the Internet,” she said with a wide smile.

Packing up her bag, she rushes off to a class.

“In the past, Iraq was a big prison,” she said. “Today it is a jungle, and I love living in a jungle.”

At home

Across town, the roar of explosives rings out. Appearing in a flash are broken glass, shreds of furniture, pools of blood.

A suicide bomber mingled among the policemen who drop by every day for an early lunch at the Qadouri Restaurant, one of the few remaining restaurants on what used to be a full street.

American soldiers in full battle dress, armed with M-16 rifles, rush to stand guard. The toll is more than 40 dead and two dozen wounded.

Back at her house in Sadr City, Mrs. Khallaf hears the news and frets: Her sons are working somewhere in Baghdad.

“Don’t worry. Every person will die on the day when God wants him to die,” her husband says.

“I will not let them go to work from now on,” she answers.

“How are we going to make a living?” her husband asks.

In midafternoon, the sons return home, unharmed.

The children of Ibrahim Ali and his wife, Fatima Mohammed, also come home, to a lunch of soup, rice and bread warmed by their father, and an afternoon of staying indoors.

Mr. Ali has converted a small part of his family’s house in the market city of Baqouba to a shop selling cigarettes and sweets. His wife works as a clerk in the governor’s office.

The eldest child, Salam, 12, wants to play soccer with his friends.

“But my mother won’t let me go outside after school,” he said.

She fears they could be caught in attacks. Instead, in the small house with two rooms, the children do their homework or watch television.

On the town

As the afternoon wears on, three friends watch the crowd filling the rooftop Dream Land Cafe in the upscale Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad. Sultan Amjad, Harith Muthana and Marwan Walid, all 18, have known each other since grade school.

They spent the early afternoon eyeing girls outside a junior high, trying to attract attention with little luck.

“We will come next Thursday and do it again. We will never give up until we get girlfriends,” Mr. Walid said.

Cars are their other passion. Mr. Amjad’s father owns a car shop, and he often regales his friends with photos, snapped on his mobile phone, of fancy cars for sale.

By 4 p.m., the friends are on the street, dickering with a merchant over a pair of flip-flops, then heading for an Internet cafe.

“We’ll go online and find some girls to chat with,” says Mr. Walid. But the Internet place is packed. Still boasting of their plans, the three head home.

In the dark

Dusk is falling in Sulaimaniyah as Maliha Mahmoud begins to clean and prepare her family’s oil lantern.

Each night, the electricity is cut off, even here in the Kurdish north where violence is less frequent and the economy better.

She and her husband, Khalid Majid, a teacher, have 10 children. Even with better times, they barely scrape by.

As everywhere across Iraq, the daily electricity blackouts seem to rankle.

“We have some daily hardships,” Mr. Majid said. Despite that, “our life is much better than compared to Saddam time.”

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