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Iraq war saga: A Baghdad family cherishes good grades, dreams of an Xbox

Two daughters of the Methboub family, which the Monitor has followed throughout the Iraq war, bring cheer amid a broken marriage and a son in jail.

By Staff writer / September 19, 2010

After a day on the job at a Baghdad bank, Duha Methboub stood with sisters Hibba and Amal and brother Mahmoud (l. to r.) July 11. Duha’s work is part of a program that the 18-year-old hopes will lead to long-term employment once she finishes school.

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After years of study, sacrifice, and sleepless preparation, the two graduating girls of the Methboub family in Baghdad both held their breath this summer for the results.

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They would shape the futures of Amal and Hibba – two daughters of Karima Selman Methboub, the widowed mother of eight whose family saga the Monitor has covered since 2002.

Their grades turned out to be relatively good – perhaps not good enough for Amal to realize her dream of being a surgeon, but still a virtual miracle considering the ongoing dramas faced by this family.

"My choice will be law, political science, or journalism," says Amal in English, about her bid for a difficult-to-acquire university spot. Studious and often quiet – in contrast to her raucous siblings – Amal kept a journal during the 2003 US-led invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein, which the Monitor published.

"Mother, we should have a party, to be happy for them!" exclaims Duha, who has two years of school left.

"Not while Ali is still in jail," says Mrs. Methboub, voicing a frequent refrain since her son was imprisoned on dubious charges two years ago.

"Whenever my mother says that, she cries," explains Duha.

"And prays," adds her mother, tearfully, "for when Ali comes out."

Indeed, the good grades are a welcome bright spot for the family. Daughter Fatima's marriage has fallen apart, and the bribes necessary to speed Ali's release are depleting family finances.

"The sorrow that comes from [Fatima] and from Ali – this sorrow will be what kills me," laments the Methboub matriarch, a stout woman whose husband died in a car accident in the 1990s. "The rest, we eat and live day by day, by the grace of God. We have only these two problems."

Methboub family stays intact with love, faith, humor

This family was buffeted, like so many Iraqis, under Mr. Hussein, when Amal was a member of a pro-Saddam youth group at school. Since then they have lived through more than seven years of American occupation that included a civil war and insurgency that at their peak yielded a monthly death toll of 3,000.

The saga of the Methboubs, who have kept their family intact with love, religious belief, and heavy doses of black humor, tells much about the immense pressures that have torn at modern Iraq.

Plenty can be found in the latest adventure of Duha, age 18, who spent a month this summer helping out at a bank that had been robbed just weeks before.

Wearing a new red-and-black dress, a necklace of fake diamonds, and makeup, Duha has the air of a real member of Iraq's workforce as she shares her experiences.

Duha's first task was handing out waiting-order numbers to arriving customers; later she recorded the names of those making cash withdrawals. Her jaw dropped when she saw an older woman take out 15 million Iraqi dinars – nearly $13,000.