Baghdad Neighborhood's Hopes Dimmed by the Trials of War

Iraqis gathered at the scene of a car bomb explosion earlier this month in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood. The attack, which injured five Iraqis and a foreigner, targeted a convoy of SUVs.
Iraqis gathered at the scene of a car bomb explosion earlier this month in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood. The attack, which injured five Iraqis and a foreigner, targeted a convoy of SUVs. (By Wathiq Khuzaie -- Getty Images)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

BAGHDAD -- In the chaotic, hopeful April of 2003, Baghdad's Karrada district was one of those neighborhoods where residents showered flowers on U.S. forces entering the capital. Revelers threw water on one another and the Americans, exuding joy at the crushing of a dictatorship that had silenced, tortured and killed their people.

Now, with the end of the third and in many ways hardest summer of the U.S.-led occupation, the lights of Karrada are dimmer. The collapse of Iraq's central power system has left Baghdad averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

The crowds on the sidewalks have thinned -- kidnapping and other forms of lawlessness since the invasion mean Baghdad's comparatively liberated women seldom leave home without a good reason.

Car bombings and other insurgent attacks, as unknown in Baghdad before the invasion as suicide subway bombings were in London until this summer, have killed more than 3,000 people in the capital since late spring.

Leaving the house for work each day has become a matter of turning the key and consigning one's fate to God, said Jassim Mohammed, 41, a Karrada merchant who has lost two of his closest friends and one of his lighting shops in car bombings since the Americans came.

"Now in Iraq, no one and nothing can protect you but that. Every morning you kiss them goodbye," Mohammed said, referring to his wife and children, "because you don't know if you will be back or not. Everyone in Iraq does that now."

Mohammed's remaining shop, its chandeliers sparkling with their Czech-made crystal pendants, is one of the last bright spots at night on Karrada's grubby streets.

Like the rest of Baghdad, Karrada is messier, more beat up than it was before the invasion. Merchants leave some damage from bombings unrepaired, anticipating more violence. Rubbish tends to pile up in once-tidy streets, neglected by a weak, cobbled-together government.

And more than two years after flowers and water cascaded onto the arriving Americans, what's being thrown on Karrada's streets, and who is throwing it, has changed as well.

Mohammed, a courtly, gentle-mannered man, carefully chose the harshest word he could think of for urine.

In Karrada this summer, Mohammed and the neighborhood watched as American soldiers on patrol grew irritated at an Iraqi who had left his car in the street to run inside a store on an errand, blocking their armored convoy.

The Americans took one of the empty plastic water bottles they use to relieve themselves when on patrol, Mohammed said. When the Iraqi driver ran out to move his car, an annoyed American plunked him with the newly filled bottle and rolled on, Mohammed said.


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