Unseen Iraq

War's Survivors Endure Another Payday

(By Andrea Bruce - The Washington Post)
By Andrea Bruce
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, September 8, 2008

Faded ID cards wilt in the hands of the elderly women and men crowding an Iraqi policeman guarding a vaultlike door at the entrance to the Rasheed Bank in Khanaqin. The uniformed officer commands them to back away. It is not yet their turn.

Leaning on a cane, a gray-haired man exits the bank with unapologetic slowness while the policeman checks a list and calls Zakia Suleiman's number. She looks down at the young, mustached man pictured on the ID card in her hand -- her husband, dead for five years now. The card is the key to his disability check, her only income.

After she enters the thick darkness inside, her abaya, draped over her head, is removed and searched by female hands. The room doesn't provide the relief she was looking for. The windows are closed for safety reasons, and there is no air conditioning.

Rasheed Bank has a main office in Baghdad and is one of several state-owned banking companies in Iraq.

This branch in Diyala provides the salaries, pensions and disability checks for everyone living in the province. Most receive their income every two months, on their assigned day.

Only women are searched. Last week, a suicide bomber killed several people outside the local mayor's office.

Female bombers are the latest trend.

Inside the bank, the walls are cracked. The floor is black and sticky. Plastic chairs are arranged in a circle rather than a line. The wait for their money will be long. Sweat gathers on Zakia's forehead. Children spy on her from the window; they are not allowed inside.

After an hour, she is handed her payment of 300,000 Iraqi dinars, about $250, and leaves to buy tomatoes, cucumbers and fish. As she squeezes past the crowd outside, a woman, holding the ID of a young man, her dead son, takes Zakia's place inside the door.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company