Desperate to leave, Iraqi family finds solace in new baby
The Methboubs are delighted at the arrival of their new son, but a cloud of poverty and violence remains over the Baghdad family.
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"Now there is a new threat," says Karima, of the area that has remained a relatively peaceful island, amid Baghdad's insurgent and sectarian carnage. "We are afraid, because Karrada did not take part in the protest [strike]."Skip to next paragraph
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"They accuse the Karrada people of being traitors," explains daughter Amal, who keeps a diary. Its most recent entries describe life during the week-long US-Iraqi blockade. "Mahdi Army members were hiding in Karrada, and when the Americans came, some Karrada people betrayed them. So they say: 'You traitors, you spies! You are helping the Americans.' "
The family heard that 20 to 25 suspected militiamen were picked up. But the two militia members in this family, they say, were not concerned, even though they are regular Friday visitors to the Said Idris shrine, which houses the local Mahdi Army office and was raided by US and Iraqi troops in recent weeks.
They say they are not involved in illegal sectarian activity. Brother Mohamed apparently stakes out gambling dens to shut them down, and is awaiting word on a defense ministry guard job. Both have been involved, the family says, in freeing hostages from kidnap gangs. But Zainab says she does not approve of her husband Ali's new ties to the Mahdi militia.
But there is another side to his work, that of community protection. "If strange or bad people come to Karrada, they [the Mahdi militia] follow them," says Zainab, the young mother who these days wears a white head covering. "If there is an explosion, they help people."
The American clampdown disrupted the Eid celebrations, and even a wedding party was told to leave their cars on the far side of a bridge that spans the Tigris River and walk to the reception at the Babylon Hotel.
But the family says the US presence also "stopped many expected explosions" during the holiday period, and briefly brought an unaccustomed level of security.
"At that time, when they were looking for the hostage [who remains missing], you felt like you were in a prison," says Fatima. "We felt safe, because there were no explosions. But we were afraid they would raid us."
The Methboub's home shows some modest recent improvements. A clock now hangs on the wall, and in the hallway an ornate Arab-style mirror and shelf, and some decorative plates have appeared. Thin blue curtains cover the windows. Several daughters wear maroon toenail polish.
But the telephone line has stopped working. And several weeks ago, a large explosion in a building on the next street killed a carpenter and wounded a neighbor girl. Duha, who was standing beside a window at home, was cut in the head with glass .
Her mother jokes that – since Duha and Hibba are identical twins – Duha should have been wounded in the right arm as her sister was last year, when cut by flying shrapnel from another blast.
Meanwhile, Karima – who lost her hotel job – has paid some $9 to an employment agency to find her another job. They keep asking her to call back, but so far have found no work for her. Karima's income from the hotel job just covered her rent of $66 a month; now there is none.The landlord threatens to raise the rent next time around. If the building is sold, Karima says, it could increase fourfold.
Son-in-law Ali has helped out – the generator was his gift, many months back – but beside his newborn baby, he must support his own parents and grandfather.
The chronic money shortage means that Fatima, now 19, comes in for a scolding from her mother, for turning down yet another suitor – an Iraqi Army captain. Karima envisioned a double wedding, of her oldest son, Ali, to one of the captain's cousins, and explored it with the family.
But Fatima refused, without even seeing him; the latest in a series of rejections.
"I am very tired," Karima says in her daughter's presence, prompting Fatima to lower baby Fahad, and stick out her tongue in protest. Fatima was taken out of school several years ago, so she could care for her younger siblings at home.
"She should go to her final home. I love her a lot, but she should go," says Karima. "Her future is with her husband, not with me. Amal, Duha, and Hibba are always asking for copybooks and school supplies. I am so tired."
Fatima blithely continues her play with her new baby nephew, ignoring her mother's words. Karima turns to her: "The train will leave [for you]," she warns. "And there is no way, after the train has left."