In Baghdad, a Sudden Chance to Play
Saturday, October 28, 2006
BAGHDAD, Oct. 27 -- Maybe it was because this week was the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr, and even killers have to stay home with their families once a year. Maybe it was because a massive American operation had shut down some of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods, and U.S. soldiers with M-16 rifles were opening car trunks, favorite places for killers to stash their guns, bombs and struggling kidnap victims.
For the people of Baghdad, death took something of a holiday this week. By Thursday, U.S. and Iraqi military commanders were staring at murder rates that had fallen by half since Monday. On Thursday, Baghdad logged only one man killed by one bomb, the government said. It made for marveling.
"Quietest day in months," said Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. "Still quiet," Khalaf said Friday.
On Monday, as the week-long holiday began, Ali Rahad and his co-workers pushed open the rusty gates of the Tofaha amusement park, gingerly, as an experiment. Tofaha -- the name means "apple" -- last opened for business almost exactly a year ago, on the previous Eid holiday.
Tofaha has only aged swings, slides with the shine long worn off and heavy merry-go-rounds, on a city lot with the grass worn to dirt by children's feet. But it's one of the few places where families might conceivably go -- Baghdad has few public parks, and many of the riverbanks where people used to picnic have been blocked off by the concrete blast walls of Iraqi and U.S. military bases.
So people at the park were hopeful. On Monday, Rahad, who runs a shooting gallery at Tofaha, waited. And waited. "Nobody came," the gangly 20-year-old said. Unsure if the quiet would last, Baghdad's people were still afraid, he said.
Eid marks the end of a demanding month of dawn-to-dusk fasting for Muslims. Families normally pass the holiday boisterously, traveling to see relatives and taking to the streets to parade in newly received finery.
But since last year's holiday, the streets have been rendered largely deserted by a surge of Shiite and Sunni gunmen. The street outside the amusement park is pitted from bombs, and shops are shuttered. The neighborhood, Radill, is just outside Sadr City, a Shiite enclave where death squads hide.
"All the families are suffering," Rahad said. "The kids are small, they forget what's going on. They don't understand why there are explosions and killing, and why they have to be jailed in their houses."
By Wednesday, people were venturing out. On Thursday morning, in a neighborhood near the amusement park, shop owner Allah Abdul Hussein consulted with his wife as he looked at their cooped-up 2-year-old daughter, Nour.
Hussein and his wife considered: Tofaha traditionally had drawn both Sunni and Shiite families; maybe that would protect it from bombs by either side. By midday, Hussein and his wife dared. They put Nour in the car and went to the park.
"Because nothing happened today, I brought them here, to have fun," Hussein said. A solemn Nour, in a new dress with a ruffled heart spread across the bodice, held his hand. Cowed, she looked up at the green helium balloon tied to her other hand and looming over her, bigger than her body.