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Two Years of War: Taking Stock

Spring 2004

A year after the invasion, when the U.S. occupation was still called an occupation, Hayawi was always conflicted. He and his four brothers who ran the bookstore -- founded by their father in 1954 -- were making twice as much as they had before the U.S. invasion. They traveled freely to Lebanon to purchase books. Their shelves burst with new titles, some purchased by government employees whose burgeoning salaries had created a new consumer class.

But living under occupation, Hayawi found his pride wounded. He told a story that he often liked to repeat.

With security a festering problem, Iraqis this week waited in line to be searched at a checkpoint in central Baghdad. (Thaier Al-sudani -- Reuters)

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In his Chevrolet Caprice, he was driving to Syria on business when he was stopped at a U.S. checkpoint manned by soldiers in two Humvees. Through an interpreter, one of the officers -- clad in camouflage and dusty from a desert wind -- began to ask routine questions.

" 'What are you doing here?' he asked. I said, 'What are you doing here? You're my guest. What are you doing in Iraq? I should ask you, you shouldn't ask me.' " The interpreter told the U.S. officer what Hayawi said.

"He laughed, and he patted my shoulder," Hayawi recalled. "This really happened."

Winter 2005

Iraq's first free election in a half-century, on Jan. 30, posed a difficult choice for Hayawi. He thought, wrongly, that "the roads would be flooded with blood up to our foreheads." He was a Sunni Arab, part of a community that largely boycotted the vote, out of fear or principle. He was uncertain whether to vote until the day itself, when Baghdad erupted in joy unparalleled since Hussein's fall.

The election "was like someone inviting me to lunch. I can't say no," he said, a little meekly. "If you say no, this is disrespectful."

Hayawi sat at his cluttered desk days after the vote, atop a cream tile floor swept clean but stained with age.

"I knew that the paper I put in the ballot box was for America. I know I was being hypocritical. But there was no other choice," he said, waving his cigarette between his fingers. "The future of Iraq is a line that goes through the occupation. If you asked me why I was voting, it's because I want to find something to pull me out of this mud."

He looked out his window, emblazoned with an Iraqi flag. "Maybe this is the rope that will save us."

Two years on, his complaints were the same: lines for gasoline in a country with the world's second-largest oil reserves; less electricity than a year ago; his suspicion that foreigners were taking the profits from oil, whose production hovered at prewar levels.

But little else -- neither past nor future -- was conclusive.

The Present

Every day on his way to work, Hayawi passes a wall, right before the Sarafiya Bridge.

A slogan celebrating the fallen Iraqi leader has faded, leaving only his name. A leaflet by followers of a young militant cleric, Moqtada Sadr, exhorts, "Be an enemy of the oppressor." Partially blotted out is another slogan that declares, "Death to the lackeys." Election posters linger, promising "to revive what was destroyed by the criminal Baath regime." Nearby is a heap of tin cans, plastic bags, wet orange peels and flies, underneath an injunction to keep the city clean.

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