Unseen Iraq

A Baghdad Trailer Park for Widows and Children

Noria Khalif Abdullah lives with her six children in a trailer community opened by the Iraqi government to house women whose husbands have been killed in violence related to the war.

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By Andrea Bruce
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, September 15, 2008

Their traditional black abayas dragging at their feet, the widows seem to drift on clouds of dust between rows of trailers standing straight and metallic in Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighborhood. These are their homes, unlike anything elsewhere in Iraq.

Noria Khalif Abdullah, 41, pulls her abaya up to her knees to mount the steep step into her trailer, where her five children are waiting. Nineteen-month-old Zahara cries at the sight of her mother, chasing her, arms up, demanding to be held. The youngest son, Hyder, 6, runs by with a broom, threatening to sweep his naked brother, who is hiding behind a door and is still wet from a shower. Maha, 13, tries to control things, hushing all of them. And in the corner, Ahmed, 11, sits on the floor, the closest approximation to privacy that he can find.

The children's father was killed in Basra because he was Shiite, Ahmed says without encouragement, slowly shedding his shyness. Then he begins to speak quickly, becoming breathless, overanxious, appearing both proud and traumatized. A year ago, his mother had found their father at the morgue -- he'd been tortured with sharp metal rods, his head and stomach pierced, before being shot dead.

"It was a time when everyone was shooting and everyone was killing," Noria adds softly, watching her son's reflection in the TV that sits dark and unused, a power cord wrapped around its base. The trailers have no electricity.

The Iraqi government opened this community of 150 trailer homes in late July to house widows and their children. Like many of the women here, Noria stayed with her parents after her husband died. But after a year with more than 25 people in one house, she and her children had worn out their welcome. She had no choice but to move her family into these foreign-looking trailers.

In the walled park, services such as electricity and water have been neglected by the government, she says. Many families left, deciding to risk their lives squatting in the empty houses nearby.

Noria cleans okra for lunch and looks out the door, which is always open to release the heat trapped inside the metal-walled trailer.

Outside, the park is quiet. Very few children are playing. Noria says she keeps her children indoors to avoid the dust and sewage. But also, she adds, just to keep them close.

Washington Post photographer Andrea Bruce is documenting the lives of people in Iraq in a feature, Unseen Iraq, appearing regularly in the World pages. For a photo gallery and previous columns, visit http://blog.washingtonpost.com/unseen-iraq.

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