Iraqi family endures the loss of both parents, looks for renewal at the polls

After years of foreign occupation, insurgency and sectarian conflict, families try to find some peace by exercising their voting rights.
By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 8, 2010

BAGHDAD -- Marwa Riyadh put on pink eye shadow to match her silky scarf. She donned a skirt and put on her best white boots. Then she and her siblings walked to the polls on Sunday morning from the shabby three-room home where they live as squatters.

Maybe voting would soften the pain caused by the death of their parents, bystanders who were killed in separate clashes between U.S. troops and militants. Maybe it would fade the memories of a sectarian war that still roils beneath the surface. Maybe it would spur Marwa, 22, to celebrate her birthday again.

Marwa is one of millions of Iraqis who in the past seven years have endured a foreign occupation, a raging insurgency and ultimately the polarization of a nation. Sunday was their chance to vote -- to reap the rewards, however modest, of the sacrifices they were forced to make.

With heads held high, Marwa and her siblings navigated through lakes of raw sewage and mounds of garbage piled on unpaved roads. Stepping carefully, they left the complex where they and thousands of other displaced families built cinder block and concrete shacks in what was once an army base.

It was all they could find after their mother's death in 2008, when no one was left to care for them. They hope the next government will not force them out.

The day before the vote, they sat on the concrete floor in the starkly furnished space that doubles as the family's living room and bedroom.

"We hope that it will change our life," Marwa said about Sunday's vote. "We hope it gets better."

Every day over the past seven years, they have lost pieces of themselves.

"Both of my parents are gone," Marwa said. "It's not worth losing them for democracy."

Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Marwa and her family fled their home just south of Baghdad and took refuge with relatives northeast of the capital. When they returned, they found that their house had been reduced to rubble by U.S. missiles.

Marwa's father, Riyadh Mohammed, began to rebuild. They found shelter with hundreds of others at another abandoned military base nearby, and Mohammed did contract work with the U.S. military.

In May 2004, as Mohammed drove home, he was caught in the crossfire between the U.S. military and insurgents.

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