BAGHDAD — In an Iraqi teenager's youthful hand, Amal wrote her war diary, committing to the pages of her orange journal the emotions of a family at Baghdad's ground zero.
Recording conflict has moved writers since Homer and Thucydides preserved the stories of the Trojan and Peloponnesian wars. Such epic proportion may not invest the trials of the family of Karima Selman Methboub - mother of Amal and seven other children - whom the Monitor first met last winter.
But the pages of Amal's diary provide an often poetic window into how ordinary Iraqis are coping with extraordinary upheaval: First as the target of a superpower's military might; then as witnesses to the collapse, after a generation in power, of Saddam Hussein.
Amal's diary - often written by lamplight using the floor as a table - charts how some Iraqis' thinking has been transformed in a month.
The pony-tailed 14-year-old interjects her tale with appeals to a higher authority for protection.
As the bombs fall, "Bush's missiles" are the enemy and US forces are to be feared.
None in this family would have thought then that the twin girls Duha and Hibba, 11, would soon be trading friendly notes with US troops.
The twins blush when they show two scraps of paper. One says "soldier" in a bold hand. The other says "Travis." Beside the name, Hibba had written in spidery letters: "I love you."
"In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate."
My name is Amal. I have a happy family of nine: Three brothers Ali, Mohamed and Mahmoud (3rd grade )... and sisters Fatima (16 years), Zeinab (9th grade), and twins Duha and Hibba (5th grade).
I am very proud of my mother, because she is a great person, she works and works, and brings us food because my father died ... in 1996 in a car accident.
We don't want war on Iraq, the country of civilization and prophets. War is torment. Mother is crying because of her fear for us. War takes away the people we love.
We prepare by filling water buckets in case there is no water or electricity. Duha and Hibba pray God Almighty that there will be no war. At 8:30, my mother made bread. Bakeries close during the war.
At 7 a.m., I went to school with Zeinab, and we found no more than 10 girls. Families are afraid, and no one knows where they will go during the war.
Hibba and Duha went to school. It was noon, [but] they came back at 12:30 and said there was no one in school. We children have no fault to die because of war. People say tonight is war at 1 a.m.
We woke up at 7 a.m., cleaned the apartment, had breakfast, and sat talking about the war. Duha and Hibba prayed and recited from the Koran for the sake of peace. We ... like peace and refuse war.
People are crying not just because of war, but also because of hunger. An egg is 200 dinars [eight cents]; bread is expensive. Everything is expensive....
At 4 a.m., Bush started bombing. My mother cried "Fatima! Fatima, wake up! The war has started!"
Mahmoud woke up and is so afraid. Duha and Hibba are ... hoping for the morning to come. Why is Bush bombing us. Don't you have any mercy in your heart for children?
Now it is 6 a.m. and [neighbors] Um Saif and Um Noor come over to the house very afraid, and in tears. It was calm at 12:30 p.m. [We] went to the market, and found only a few groceries. We came home ... cut the cheese in slices, drank tea, and started talking about war. Mother asked: "Is Bush intending to bomb us today?" [The twins] said "God willing, he won't."
The electricity was out, so we went to our mother's friend Um Jalal. On the way back to our house, the siren sounded again and we were very frightened and tried to run as fast as we can back home saying, "God save us!" At 9:15 p.m., the bombing was intense, close to our home.
Now I am sitting in the corridor in front of our apartment with my sisters and mother. The sound of bombing is getting stronger and stronger.... Then it turns quiet again ... and we don't know when Bush's storm hits again. Fatima thinks that we are living and dying at the same time, but how long will it be like this?
Today is Baghdad's turn. At 8:10 p.m., the siren was heard. [Friend] Omar was talking about war when a missile flew just over the building. Then at 9, the bombing was louder; [we] were crying from the sound and the shaking of buildings, so we went in front of the house. [The Saif family] were crying in the street; we went inside, where [friend] Um Haidar fainted.
I am writing and the house next to our building is shaking. It's now 9:35 p.m., and all the families in the house are terrified and crying for God to bring the morning....
We went on top of the roof ... and saw smoke coming from the palaces and smoke not far from our building.... at 10:30 p.m., the bombing resumes.
I've never seen anything like this. I'm so afraid tears are running down my eyes, and I'm saying "Oh God, dear God."
It's 3:16 p.m. The bombing now is throughout the day, too. At 2:15 a.m., a very loud sound, and mother wakes up terrified. At 4, loud explosions are heard. God, why must we torment and suffer?
[We] went to al Fanar Hotel, and there were all the peace people [Western activists]. It was a good joke because they wanted to celebrate my birthday. We were sitting with Jamal, the journalist, talking about peace when suddenly, big bombing sounds frightened everyone.
At 5:30 p.m., we saw a plane and it shot three times, very loud and intense. We saw on TV dead US soldiers and other prisoners. Prisoners were from Texas. What is the fault of these dead soldiers? What is the fault of their families and their mothers crying out for them? Why this war?
Sirens sounded and at 7:08, US planes hit us. We have hope and very big hope for peace. I love hope because it's the most beautiful thing in the world and I wish hope will continue in every Iraqi family and American. I wish from God only peace.
At 3:50 p.m., we hear missile attacks. The wind is dusty, the wind is fast, and the water is red-colored. It truly is like the anger of the sky, as the war is against the will of God. He created man to be good, peaceful with love, not to choose war and kill people. At 7:50, the winds are very strong, the door of our apartment is banging. The sirens sound again....
At 1:35p.m: The sky turned red-colored as if it were the blood of innocent people.... It's truly sad for the innocent Iraqis and the Americans dying without a cause, with the sky pouring dirt on the streets. The sky is upset....
Now its 5:56 pm, and [the children] are playing in the corridor not knowing when Bush might hit Baghdad. They are laughing.
There is silence, then suddenly a big blast.... We stay awake until the morning.
Americans started bombing at 1:20 p.m. The children ... ran in with fear in their eyes. Mother said 'Don't be afraid!' We all group in one room. Hibba, Duha, and Mahmoud pray.... War! War! War! Don't you see [children]? Why? Why? Why this killing war?
They never stop bombing throughout the night and the morning. Now I hear the sound of ambulances. We spent the night with Abu Saif's family.... What are the feelings and emotions of Mr. Bush and Mr. Prime Minister [Blair]? Don't they think of love that beats from the heart?
At 5:15 p.m. the electricity is out ... the corridors are dark. Please God enlighten us, show us the light. The electricity comes back.... We see on TV the injured children in the south. We see sad pictures of [a] dead infant, pictures that would make even a rock cry.... Where is justice?
I see on TV that US soldiers were entering homes. I see them tying up children and women in Basra. I am writing and the tears are running from my eyes.
The electricity hasn't come.... The water was also cut.... Should we die of thirst? They took [the] airport ... and some say that the Americans are coming into Baghdad and our troops can't resist them.... Protect us, we are scared.
Every day we have to fill buckets of water from downstairs. We hear loud bombing and shooting close to our building ... no one may go up to the roof.
Planes are passing by and bombing so, so hard.... At 3:23 p.m., we hear clashes between US and Iraqi troops. At 4, we heard on the news that the Americans occupied the presidential palace.
The planes come and go, and fear and terror control us completely.... These seem like our final moments, but God responds to our prayers. Every time it calms down, we are getting more worried because we don't know what will happen.
At 4:53 p.m. I see a [American] tank pass by the street next to us ... and Baghdad fell into American hands.
We woke to the loud sound of the radio in Um Mohamed's house, and she was yelling that Baghdad and Iraq was occupied by the US. The news on the radio is that Iraqis are destroying government buildings and stealing ... and that Saddam Hussein and his family have fled. The fear from these robbers is even worse. What is happening to our people, stealing without thought? What will the Americans do?
Iraqis usually go early to the mosque for Friday prayers, but Iraqis are [now] waking to rob the people. We used to trust Saddam Hussein, but we don't know who to trust anymore.... Three tanks went by carrying US soldiers while hospitals are being looted and nobody says anything.
At 5:30 p.m. (Sat.), US tanks stopped at our building and people were greeting the soldiers. Duha and Hibba went over and the soldiers gave them chocolate.These soldiers are nice, but they are moved by Bush. The children surrounded the US tanks and they were happy. The Americans blew up the Iraqi tank and left; the children waved goodbye.
We woke up (Sun.) to ... the American tanks. Mother told me to get some water using the buckets. Dear God, why this torture? Why don't they bring electricity?
At 3:10 p.m., US troops passed by walking, and at 5:20 p.m. they left and the people accompanying them danced to the sound of American music. At 8:30 pm, tanks passed by. I was on Um Saif's balcony. I was afraid. The Americans waved and I waved back, but I was afraid.
At 1:55 p.m., the twins come home and say Americans are walking on the street, and writing their names on children's hands. Hibba's hands have soldiers' names written on them. [The twins] say the soldiers were nice and both are pleased with this happy meeting. Are they really nice? Nobody knows but God.
At 3:30 p.m., we hear the sound of planes . I look from the windows and see calm, birds are flying, children are playing happily. Safety is very nice. No one is talking about America or war.
Two tanks pass the building, the children run, shouting, "Mama, Mama! Look at the beautiful tanks with Americans in them!" These are children; they don't know anything.
The people are asking: "Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is his army?" This was the "final battle" between Iraq and America, as Saddam called it. Nobody knows how the war ended so fast. Thirty years of Saddam's power all gone! Everybody is asking about Hussein. What if he turns up ? Iraqis don't like surprises.
This week, the family's electricity was restored, though it's intermittent. When it's on, they can fill up their water tank. No one is in school yet; radio reports say school may reopen in the middle of May. The family is greatly relieved that brother Ali has returned from the front.