The Cost of Liberty
The attack on the salons in October badly shook Halla, her family and friends. When U.S. soldiers arrived to help extinguish the flames, she says they told her they thought the attackers were Islamic extremists and warned her to be careful. She was -- for a while. Halla says she made inquiries about other jobs through friends, but her attempts were cursory and she discovered that they often paid $30 or less a month, a tiny fraction of what she made as a prostitute. As the days passed without another attack, the fears started to fade and she went back to her old life.
One day in February, she woke up on a cold stone floor, confused. Her head was resting on her purse and she was covered by a blanket. She was still in her red flannel pajamas but was also wearing an abaya robe on top of them. The left sleeve was ripped. Then Halla noticed that the walls of the room were sky blue, the trademark color of the Iraqi police. She was at a police station.
Her head spun as she recalled the events of the night. She had been out with a friend, Asaad Abdul Razak, 22, and they had gotten into an argument. He criticized her for being a prostitute, but what really set her off was that he had said her late husband, Walid, was no good and had chastised her for being so stuck on him. She hit him and he hit her. Then somehow her brother Maarouf showed up, stabbed Asaad in the stomach and ran from the scene.
The police arrived but found only Halla and the wounded young man. She was arrested and locked up in an office in the local police station. All she did that day was cry, she says, so hard that at one point she had an asthma attack and the police had to rush her to the hospital.
But by morning, she says, things didn't seem as gloomy. Shamil had brought chicken and rice from her favorite restaurant and had talked the police into visiting Asaad in the hospital to clear things up. Asaad signed a statement saying Halla wasn't involved and told police some random gangsters had attacked him. After reviewing all the reports, a U.S. Army captain signed Halla's release papers, Halla says, and smiled as he wished her well.
That gave Halla an idea. Images of money flashed through her mind. She scribbled down her phone number and slipped it to the interpreter to give to the soldier.
She was disappointed when he didn't call.
Special correspondent Shereen Jerjes contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company