In Baghdad, Violence Robs Ramadan of Its Happiness

Iraqi forces secure Baghdad's Green Zone after yesterday's suicide bombing.
Iraqi forces secure Baghdad's Green Zone after yesterday's suicide bombing. (By Wathiq Khuzaie -- Getty Images)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 5, 2005

BAGHDAD, Oct. 4 -- Pressing his foot to the gas pedal as he closed on the white Mercedes-Benz in front of him, the bomber sped toward his target: a senior Iraqi official.

A burst of white light followed, and a boom, muffled by the concrete blast walls that ring Baghdad's Green Zone. Shreds of bloody cloth and flecks of flesh rained upon stunned survivors. Among them, witnesses said, was the targeted Interior Ministry official, standing in the gore and flame, unscathed.

The unknown attacker ended his life on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, when some radical Muslims believe the gates of Heaven open and those who die in the name of the faith have their entrance to Paradise guaranteed. Two fist-size gobbets of soot-streaked flesh dangled from coiled concertina wire.

It was the opening of a month in which ever-more-weary and ever-less-hopeful Iraqis fear that violence here -- already risen to a level of carnage few imagined when U.S. troops entered 2 1/2 years ago -- will only get worse.

Ramadan is normally one of the happiest periods of the Islamic calendar, one when aunts, uncles and cousins assemble after day-long fasts for elaborate meals. Children stay up into the early hours for TV and conversation. Men head out to cafes for smoky late-night outings.

In more peaceful times, commercial districts in Baghdad would be thick with people at the close of each day, as shoppers gathered food for the nighttime gatherings. But Ayad Abu Jihad, a salesman standing unhappily in his empty appliance store in the Karrada neighborhood, said: "This is nothing like Ramadan."

On Tuesday, Karrada's streets were barren of crowds. Almost all of those out late in the day were men. Most women, fearful of kidnapping and bombings, yielded shopping and other errands.

Shopkeepers and shoppers said nothing of happiness this Ramadan.

"There aren't many customers, and it's all because of bad security," said Abu Jihad, 35, idle in his darkening shop. "What's more, the situation will deteriorate more with the coming referendum. I expect more violence and more explosions."

Ramadan last year had a surge of violence -- although the dozen deaths recorded on the worst day of that season have become standard daily fare in Iraq, ever since insurgents stepped up attacks with the seating of Iraq's U.S.-backed transitional government in late April.

This Ramadan coincides with Iraq's Oct. 15 national vote on a proposed constitution. U.S. officials from President Bush on down have warned that insurgents will likely increase attacks to taint the milestone in Iraqi efforts at government-building. Factional tensions -- among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis -- also have increased over the document.

The Western calendar has been just as grim. September was the bloodiest month yet in Iraq in terms of multiple-fatality insurgent bombings, according to figures kept by the U.S.-based Brookings Institution. Such bombings killed at least 481 people and wounded 1,074, Brookings reported.

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