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One Week in Baghdad

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By Zeyad
Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, March 19, 2006; 12:00 AM

BAGHDAD, Sunday, March 12 -- A sudden whizzzzzz . . . KABOOM sent me flying from the couch where I was dozing off, watching TV.

"What was that?" my father asked from the hallway.

"Probably a mortar round," I replied. "A close one."

"Good. They're lobbing mortars at us now. What's next?" he said and went back to his bedroom.

It's almost 9 p.m., a dangerous time to go outside. Neighborhood watch teams -- young men brandishing AK-47s, pistols, RPGs and even sniper rifles -- set up checkpoints around this time. Many were referred to as the "Mujahideen" or insurgents in the past. Now, they are considered defenders of our predominantly Sunni district against Shiite death squads and militias.

I tried to stay interested in the Steven Seagal action flick on TV, but my focus kept shifting to the occasional rumble of mortar shells outside. After a while I went upstairs to use the Internet.

Just as I set foot in my room, an intense barrage of gunfire erupted on our street. Not good. My cell phone was ringing; it was a friend who lives down our street. "It's an American patrol," he al most whispered. "I can see Humvees from where I am. And it looks like they have Iraqi police with them."

What is going on?

"Keep your head down for God's sake. We'll talk later."

I went to check on my younger brother, Nabil. He was playing his guitar to a Metallica tune, oblivious to his surroundings. His room has a better view, but it's not wise to stick one's head out of a window when Americans are nearby. The street was dark enough, but everyone knows they have night vision goggles. A sniper bullet in the head is not a fun prospect so I lay low and tried to listen.

I did hear radio transmission from an Iraqi police vehicle, and what sounded like an American soldier shouting. The gunfire had ceased by now, probably after the local vigilantes had realized it was Americans, not militias or Interior ministry forces entering our territory. The vehicles moved away after a while, and the alarm level dropped.

No point in trying to figure out what happened. It could wait for the morning, when people would give you different versions of the incident. Most of the time no one has an idea. Two days ago, there was a similar firefight and neighbors claimed that 40 vehicles carrying black-clad Shiite militiamen had attempted to enter our district but were fended off.


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