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Two Years of War: Taking Stock

His views over what was ahead were like the wall itself. They collided and intersected, contradicted and agreed.

He approved of attacks on U.S. soldiers -- like most Sunnis, he considered that part of the insurgency legitimate resistance. But he recoiled at the car bombs and suicide attacks against Iraqi police and civilians, whose deaths are far more numerous.

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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"A car bomb in front of a school, in front of children?" he asked. "Can you call this an act of resistance?"

He worried about the growing sectarian and ethnic divisions in the country, perhaps the most lasting legacy of the U.S.-supported political process in Iraq. He was Sunni, but did not identify himself as such. To Hayawi, the sectarian focus was a harbinger of strife like the civil war that consumed Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. "Iraq resists sectarianism, but can't prevent it," he said.

In his bookstore, once-banned titles were selling well. Most were Iranian imports by Shiite clerics. Also popular were titles by radical Sunnis: Mohammed ibn Abd Wahhab, the 18th-century godfather of Saudi Arabia's strict brand of Islam; the austere medieval thinker Ibn Taimiya; and Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian author of the seminal militant tract "Signposts on the Road," who was executed in 1966.

Even more sought-after were language books -- English, French, Turkish and Farsi -- what Hayawi called passports to the rest of the world. The bestsellers: books on astrology by Lebanese writers made famous by satellite television.

"People want to know what their destiny is," he said, smiling.

Rhythms of Life

Every morning, Hajji Sadiq, the money-changer, ambles into the Renaissance Bookstore.

"What's the exchange rate?" Hayawi bellows to him.

"I won't tell you unless you're going to buy," Hajji Sadiq answers him, slurring his words through the gaps in his teeth.

Business resumes for another day, with endless trays of tea -- each glass costing 10 cents -- brought through the door.

"Habibi!" Hayawi shouts to customers, greeting them with an Arabic term of endearment. An elderly beggar covered in black appears at the entrance, as she does every day. "God's mercy on your parents," she mutters. "Can you help me?"

The topic is the rain that had flooded Baghdad in March, and Hayawi tells a story about Hajjaj, a medieval ruler of Baghdad known for his cruelty. In the tale, Hajjaj asks a subject, "Who brought me? Did God bring me, did I bring myself, or did you bring me to you?" The first answered that Hajjaj came on his own. Wrong, Hajjaj said, and he ordered him beheaded. The second answered God. He was beheaded, too. The third said he would answer only if his life was guaranteed. Hajjaj agreed.

"Our misdeeds brought you to rule us," his subject said.

Others in the bookstore nodded. "Maybe God's angry with us," Hayawi said.

Two Kurdish booksellers come in, bringing a gift of honey from Sulaymaniyah in the north. They greet Hayawi in Kurdish, then the conversation continues in Arabic.

"If you can give us a good deal, it's okay," Hayawi said. "If you can't, we'll depend on God."

The electricity cuts out, an event so routine no one seems to notice. Hayawi scrutinizes a 25,000-dinar note, suspicious that it's counterfeit. His brothers call for more tea.

Hajji Sadiq returns hour after hour, quoting hardly perceptible changes in the exchange rate. Hayawi whispers in jest that the money-changer is carrying $10,000. "Be careful out there," Hayawi shouts before turning to his brother. "There will be a day when I rob Hajji Sadiq," he jokes.

By 1 p.m., power returns, and 10 minutes later, a water pipe arrives. Sweet-smelling, apple-flavored tobacco fills the room.

"Life goes on," Hayawi says. "We are in the middle of a war, and we still smoke the water pipe."

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