A Block in Baghdad Mourns Its Own

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

BAGHDAD, March 31 -- Abdul Qader, his chest and leg wrapped in white bandages, began to cry -- not out of pain, but loss. He remembered seeing the American Humvees, then a hail of bullets. He remembered seeing his close friend and neighbor, Abbas Ramadan, shot as he clutched his 2-year-old granddaughter, blood oozing from her head. Abdul Qader ran and ran until he collapsed from the bullets that pierced his own body.

"He's gone. He was so kind," said Abdul Qader, crumbling. "I am not crying because of my wounds. I am crying because of my friend. He was like a brother."

Abdul Qader's suffering is part of the human toll of the worst violence in months in Iraq. At least 400 people, from the southern city of Basra to the capital, Baghdad, were killed over six days, including many civilians, according to Iraqi police and other officials. Countless more were injured, joining thousands of Iraqis whose lives have been shattered by five years of conflict.

On Saturday evening, Ramadan and his granddaughter Tabarik were mortally wounded as they sat outside their front door in Baghdad's Zafraniya neighborhood. Witnesses said U.S. troops fired in their direction toward a group of young men who the soldiers may have thought were militiamen. Abbas Fadhil, 25, a neighbor, was also killed as he bought a pack of cigarettes.

A U.S. military spokesman said there were no reports of accidental deaths of civilians at that time, or of U.S. troops engaging hostile forces in the area.

"I'm not saying it didn't happen. If it did happen, we would want them to come forward and let us know," Lt. Col. Steve Stover said. "We don't like making mistakes. We do own up to our mistakes."

Monday, following the lifting of a curfew, was the first day that Ramadan's relatives and friends could mourn properly. They came, through heavy traffic and checkpoints, knowing that violence could erupt again at any moment.

Two funeral tents were erected next to each other, the anguish of the mourners melding together. The larger tent, made of purple and cream fabric printed with pretty flowers befitting a little girl, stood in the middle of this scarred street. Inside, a picture of Ramadan and his son, Hamza, who died in a car bombing last year, stood on a table. Next to it was a picture of a smiling Tabarik, bubbling with life.

A few feet away, large bullet holes pocked the orange-painted gate of a shop. Next door, the wall of a house was riddled with more bullet holes. Ghadeer Abbas, Tabarik's father, pointed at the holes and shook his head. Then he walked over to the next house and sat on a small brick block in front of a tan gate, also peppered with bullet holes. He pointed to a maroon patch on the ground.

"This is my daughter's blood," Abbas said.

Around 6 p.m. on Saturday, his father was sitting on the same brick block, chatting with Abdul Qader about cars and marriage. They had known each other for 20 years. Ramadan was 51, a taxi driver. He had just finished making some repairs on his Chevrolet Malibu. And Tabarik, as usual, was near him. "My daughter was always following her grandfather. She loved him very much," Abbas said.

Down the road, behind short concrete blast walls, U.S. troops could be seen in four Humvees, according to several witnesses.

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