On the Streets of Iraq, Scenes of Joy and Determination

A boy greets a U.S. Marine with a playful gesture near a polling station in Fallujah, Iraq. With a security ban on private vehicles imposed in many places for the referendum, children were able to briefly reclaim the streets.
A boy greets a U.S. Marine with a playful gesture near a polling station in Fallujah, Iraq. With a security ban on private vehicles imposed in many places for the referendum, children were able to briefly reclaim the streets. (By Ben Curtis -- Associated Press)

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 16, 2005

For the cooped-up children of bomb-weary Baghdad, referendum day was a winner, no matter what the final outcome.

A security ban on private vehicles, invoked to keep would-be bombers from reaching targets, had a blissful side effect: The boys and girls of Baghdad took back the streets for a day.

"Do you want us to tell you something?" asked Tamara Majeed, 11, when a visitor interrupted her friends as they sketched a chalk outline for tuki -- a form of hopscotch -- in the middle of a potholed street in Sadr City, a Shiite Muslim district of 2 million.

Barely waiting for an answer, the group of schoolgirls in pigtails, bows and scarves burst into song.

"Let your vote revolt," their high voices sang in a made-for-the-day anthem learned recently in school. The song continued, referring to the former ruling party of Saddam Hussein: "Don't let us down -- don't make me return to the Baathist grave."

"Latifiyah!" the growing ring of girls belted out, evoking the name of a Sunni Arab stronghold, since 2003 a bugaboo to scare children. "We won't ever be with the terrorists. . . . We will pass through Latifiyah because we are strong Shiites!"

In Baghdad's heavily Shiite, middle-class Karrada district, thousands of children spilled out onto the streets, bicycling and wobbling on roller skates down deserted thoroughfares. Two months ago, a car bomb targeting police exploded there, then a second bomb went off after children had gathered at the scene.

"We saw pieces of flesh even on the roofs of the building," said Johnnie Michael, 17, whose name reflects his Christian background.

One boy pointed out where flying glass had cut him. Another pointed to a scar on his leg left by the blast.

Faisal Mohammed, 11, said he hoped the new constitution would bring security.

"We fear the explosions," he said. "We want to go out and play."


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