In Baghdad, a routine of disruption, stress

U.S. airstrikes, closing of schools and shops fill families with fear

April 02, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - First, an interior door starts to shake, rattling a loose key in the lock. Then the walls throb as the concussion of U.S. bombs rumbles like a wave washing over the city. The terrifying sound sends a 14-year-old girl into her mother's arms. The teen-ager holds her ears like a toddler.

The scene, during an airstrike yesterday afternoon, has become routine for the Al-Ali family and in thousands of other homes around the city.

Most of the bombing appears to be done with precision. But the sporadic, around-the-clock airstrikes are hellish for families crouched in their houses and apartments.

It is difficult to tell what is happening. An explosion could be blocks away but sound like it's next door. The Iraqi anti-aircraft fire also shakes the walls.

"People feel they are put in danger by a phantom, a ghost. It's the planes they cannot see. The technology," said Mohsin Al-Ali, 50. Two American reporters visited his home in the company of an Iraqi government minder.

For the Al-Ali family - Mohsin and his wife, Jinan; their 22-year-old son, Omar; and twins, Fatma and Miriam, 14 - preparations are akin to the precautions for a natural disaster. Pictures have been taken off the walls. A bookcase blocks the windows of a room where they sleep together. There's tape across the windows.

Life in Baghdad is full of other disruptions and stresses.

There is no school, and no one knows how long it will be closed. Perhaps the school year will have to be repeated.

Most adults no longer go to work. Offices are closed, and many are destroyed.

The phones have been down for five days, severing contact between friends and relatives in other neighborhoods.

Yet life in Baghdad has not stopped. Light traffic continues through the day, and some shops and restaurants remain open. Men still play backgammon and smoke water pipes on downtown's Sadoun Street.

On the street, life is described in the terms encouraged by the government to boost morale and annoy enemies. They say it's normal. They're used to it.

For the Al-Ali family, the concerns run deeper. They listen to the reports that U.S. soldiers killed seven women and children at a checkpoint near the town of Najaf - something U.S. officials explain was a tragic mistake but that people here see as more sinister.

"We're afraid. Listen to the planes," said Mohsin's wife, Jinan Abdul Hamid, 48, as a roar echoes in the distance.

The Al-Ali's villa is in the upscale Arasat section of Baghdad. They worry about the obvious targets close by, including the homes of government VIPs.

The house has not been damaged except for some new cracks in a ceiling. They still have electricity and running water - though a well has been dug in the garden, just in case. The girls try to stay busy by reading Arabic versions of classics by Eugene O'Neill and Berchtold Brecht. Fatma recently finished a version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Mohsin Al-Ali, a fan of American culture, worries that the bombings are making his daughters hate the West. He recently bought a bootlegged copy of the 2003 Academy Awards show and pointed out to his girls that many American actors are against the war.

"These are the Americans we know," he told them, not the phantoms who shake the house and disrupt their lives.

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