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Civil strife comes home as a son joins Sadr's army

The Monitor revisits the Methboub family. The youngest son has a new bike; another has joined a radical Shiite militia.

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Mohamed says fellow Sadrists broke up a gang that had kidnapped an Egyptian, and found they carried Badr Brigade identity cards. He claims Sadr does not play the sectarian game in Iraq.

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"Moqtada is the best cleric, because he does not make a difference between Shiites and Sunnis," says sister Fatima.

"They are all Muslims, no difference," says Mohamed. He tells a story in which a senior Sadr official was jailed for a month after making some divisive statements.

"Those accusations [of sectarian killings] are just rumors to accuse the Mahdi Army. The claims go to Mr. Moqtada, and he investigates, and says 'No one from the Mahdi Army did this.' "

"God willing we will continue," concludes Mohamed. "All of us are servants of Imam Mahdi."

Passing exams and riding bikes

While Methboub says "there is no life in Iraq," this family's story is not all sad, and is often punctuated by noisy laughter – especially aimed at the treatment of Hussein in the trial, and at the hapless efforts of the new Iraqi government and Americans to bring order.

The good news: The children in school passed their exams; daughter Amal continues to write in her diary, and daughter Zainab – married last year – is expecting a baby in August, though she is nervous about the birth, and is "leaving it all in the hands of God."

Zainab's husband, a security guard, was able to buy the family a small generator to cope with the summer heat wave, and the lowest amount of electricity generation in Iraq since the US occupation began.

There has even been a bright moment for Mahmoud, 12, despite the trauma of another bomb blast. He still hawks Pepsi on the street, and since last year dreamed of buying a bicycle. He was so infatuated with a bike that he was secretly using some of his $1-per-day earnings to "rent" rides on bikes owned by his friends.

A Monitor reader stepped in and bought the boy his choice of bikes – an 18-speed machine, which Mahmoud insisted be fitted with an Iraqi flag on the front axle. Pride now spreads across his face, and he shows off the trophy in the Spartan living room of the tiny family apartment; his sisters laugh at the moment of joy.

Surviving in Baghdad

His excitement couldn't have been more different from the day before, when Mahmoud had to run for it after the bomb. He said he "felt something hot on my back," and then, with another boy, "we saw people dead and burned."

Methboub says electricity was out in the neighborhood, so many people were outside. A woman went up to an ice-seller on the street, and asked him to watch her bag while she shopped; within moments the bag exploded killing up to seven people.

"People are crazy and crying," laments Methboub. Her nephew was nearby, and helped carry bodies into cars. "He tried to help an old man who was wounded, who said: 'Don't carry me! Please run away – there may be another bomb!' "

An earlier explosion, just days before, was close to a market and a butcher shop. The bomb went off near a very poor woman who sold slippers. In the days following, Iraqi police and soldiers blanketed the area, setting up checkpoints and checking cars for explosives. While buying bread a few days later, Amal found security forces looking for the driver of a suspicious parked car.

"Who's hurt? It's the poor people who are hurt," says Amal, of efforts by the new government of Prime Minister Mouri al-Maliki to staunch the bloodshed. "He can't do it alone – he needs the Americans. But Maliki, he is sitting in his house [in the fortified Green Zone] every day; he's very safe."

"They don't agree among themselves, so how can people agree with them?" complains Fatima, preparing potatoes in a bowl, while Mahmoud fixes his bike chain. "Their faces don't make you feel safe."

She is no fan of American forces either – thanks to a string of murder allegations by US troops against Iraqi civilians – though Fatima had no qualms with them "coming to Iraq as friends." Even the death a month ago of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, is not likely to improve things.

"[US forces] do many bad things, so people have a right to hate them," says Fatima, matter-of-factly. "They killed one [Zarqawi], but have given birth to 100 like him."

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